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How An IS Militant Wooed A Tajik Woman Online

Firuzi would only say that he was "in a country that is like paradise." After some time, Firuzi admitted to Manzura that he was in Syria.
Firuzi would only say that he was "in a country that is like paradise." After some time, Firuzi admitted to Manzura that he was in Syria.

Reports have emerged about young Chechen women who met North Caucasus militants online and traveled to Syria to join them.

In one case, an 18-year-old woman "married" her virtual boyfriend, a 25-year-old resident of Kabardino-Balkaria, before heading out to join him in Syria.

A similar phenomenon is also happening in Tajikistan, according to a report by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi.

Radio Ozodi spoke to a 20-year-old Tajik woman named as Manzura (her name has been changed to protect her identity) from the city of Kulob, who described how she had started to chat to a young man she met on the Russian social-networking site Odnoklassniki.

Manzura talked to the young man, who went under the name Firuzi Mujohid ("jihadi fighter"), every day, but he would not tell her his exact location. Firuzi would only say that he was "in a country that is like paradise," Manzura recalls.

After some time, Firuzi admitted to Manzura that he was in Syria and that he was "waging jihad" there.

Firuzi invited Manzura to join him so that she could "find a path to paradise," a chat-up line that in this case was likely a euphemism for joining the Islamic State (IS) group and becoming a "jihadi bride," the wife of a militant.

"During our chats, he asked for my details so he could buy me a ticket to come to him," Manzura told Radio Ozodi.

At this point, as things seemed to be getting serious, Manzura asked Firuzi to tell her his real name. Manzura's young admirer turned out to be Umar from Dushanbe.

Firuzi/Umar sent Manzura some photographs of himself that had been taken before he went to Syria and some other snaps showing him in Syria posing under an IS flag. Trust was growing between the young pair.

But while Umar was a militant fighting in Syria, his Internet dating style appears to have been fairly standard. When Manzura didn't log into Odnoklassniki for a while, Umar invited another girl -- a 21-year-old from his hometown, Dushanbe -- to join him in Syria.

The budding friendship between Manzura and Umar came to an abrupt halt when the "other woman" flew to Syria and apparently married her prize. Umar's new bride took down her husband's Odnoklassniki page and warned Manzura to stop communicating with her spouse.

But even after his marriage, Umar was not deterred from attempting to pursue his romance with Manzura.

"Even after that, this man proposed that I come to Syria and become his second wife," Manzura says.

Was Umar an IS "honey trap" who was recruiting young Tajik women to come to Syria and join the militants? Manzura thinks her young man might have used his courtship skills to recruit other women.

Tajik psychologist Zarina Kendzhaeva tells Radio Ozodi that extremists are recruiting girls who have "lost hope and meaning in life." "Basically, they quickly believe what they are told and do not have their own clear opinions. They think that this is the only way out for them," Kendzhaeva says.

But is IS just targeting weaker, vulnerable women? There is evidence to suggest that some of the Tajik women who have been recruited by IS to join the militants in Syria are not those who have "lost hope" but are well-educated young professionals. These young women are likely targeted deliberately.

In late February, the Tajik authorities prevented 25-year-old Shahnoza Bozorzoda from traveling to Syria. Bozorzoda was not a "hopeless" young woman but a medical student from suburban Dushanbe. Like Manzura, Bozorzoda had decided to go to Syria after she met a militant, Sabzkadam, on the Internet, in her case via Facebook.

Bozorzoda and her militant friend continued their online relationship via the instant-messaging apps WhatsApp and Viber, according to the Tajik authorities.

The method that Sabzkadam reportedly used to woo Bozorzoda appears to differ somewhat from that used by Umar to attract Manzura.

Sabzkadam seems to have tried to appeal to Bozorzoda's sense of justice and duty, sending her various photographs and videos of the war in Syria. These had a "psychological impact" on her, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said. Sabzkadam also told her about the "path of jihad."

When Sabzkadam later wired Bozorzoda some money, she dropped out of medical school and flew to Turkey. She was stopped before she managed to cross into Syria, however.

While Umar appears to have been searching for a Tajik wife when he targeted Manzura, Sabzkadam likely targeted a medical student for a reason: the IS group needs medics to treat its wounded and sick militants. Both IS and other militant groups in Syria have called on women with medical qualifications and skills to come out and join them.

Although Bozorzoda was stopped before entering Syria, if she had joined IS she would not have been the only female medic to have done so. "Bird of Jannah," a Malaysian woman who writes an online diary about her experiences being the wife of an IS militant, is a doctor who practiced medicine in Malaysia before joining IS in Syria.

It is not known exactly how many Tajiks have gone to Syria to fight alongside militants. Edward Lemon of the University of Exeter, who tracks Tajik militants in Syria and Iraq, estimates that between 100 and 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria.

Most of those are with the IS group, he believes.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

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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