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How An Ethnic Uzbek From Kyrgyzstan Joined Al-Qaeda In Syria (And Died)

An image from White Minaret, the Russian-language media wing of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, showing a 24-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan, called "Usman," who reportedly fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and died in a 2015 clash with U.S.-backed militants.

White Minaret, the Russian-language media wing of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, has provided an account of an ethnic Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan who fought and died for the group.

Twenty-four-year-old Usman fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and died in a recent clash with U.S.-backed militants near Azaz in northern Aleppo province.

According to White Minaret, Usman came from Batken in southwestern Kyrgyzstan.

The young man was radicalized in his hometown not very long before he decided to head off to Syria.

"Not long ago, he lived an ordinary, jahili life like most young people from the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]," White Minaret wrote, using an Arabic term meaning "ignorance" popularized in the 1960s by Egyptian fundamentalist Sayyid Qutb, whose work influenced Al-Qaeda.

White Minaret points out that it was an ethnic Uzbek, Abdulvali-qori Mirzaev, whose teachings played a role in Usman's conversion to Islam. A well-known imam who disappeared in 1995, Mirzaev was kidnapped by the Uzbek intelligence services, his supporters believe. (White Minaret goes even further and says Mirzaev was murdered.)

To Moscow

He was radicalized in Kyrgyzstan, but Usman became interested in Syria only after he moved to Moscow, likely as a foreign laborer.

There "with every day he began to follow news from Syria, who was fighting for what, who were the mujahedin [militants], what was jihad," White Minaret writes.

According to White Minaret, Usman got in touch with militants from Katiba Sayfullah, a foreign fighter group within Nusra. Originally founded by a Chechen but now led by an ethnic Uzbek and whose ranks include a large number of Central Asians.

The turning point for Usman was when he realized that "one of his closest brothers" was fighting alongside the battalion, White Minaret says.

White Minaret is referring not to a blood relative of Usman but to a close comrade, very possibly from his hometown of Batken. In November, the Kyrgyz authorities reported that some 34 people from the Batken area had gone to Syria.

Back To Batken

Before he traveled to Syria, Usman paid a visit to his family in Batken but deliberately did not tell them about his plans.

"Young people are often detained at airports and ticket offices and their parents are called," explains White Minaret, noting that Usman "made a short detour back through Moscow" before traveling to Istanbul.

Training -- And Death

In Syria, Usman was sent to a Nusra training camp in Azaz near the border with Turkey.

But his dream of "jihad" did not last long.

After just five months he was killed -- in his first battle.

Usman died fighting what White Minaret called "American puppets directly trained by U.S. instructors."

The Nusra media wing is referring to Division 30, a small group of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels. Nusra attacked Division 30 near Azaz on July 30 and again earlier this month, abducting some of its members and killing others.

According to White Minaret, Usman was killed in a drone strike.

An account of the Division 30 assault by a Dutch militant recalls that after the Al-Qaeda group attacked, a drone was heard flying overhead that "gave [coordinates] to fighter jets." Several Nusra militants died in the air strikes that followed, the Dutch fighter wrote.

'The Perfect Militant'

White Minaret's eulogy of Usman is part of a trend among Russian-speaking militants in Syria.

Such eulogies set an example by demonstrating the radical Islamist ideology of "jihad" and "martyrdom" in action.

And they provide an ideologically acceptable outlet for the grief felt by the dead militant's comrades.

Usman's story also offers advice for would-be militants wanting to go to Syria -- such as don't travel to Istanbul directly from one's hometown.

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world.


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