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Kazakhstan (Finally) Designates IS As Terror Group

An Islamic State video titled Race Toward Good showed Kazakh nationals, including children, in training in Syria.
An Islamic State video titled Race Toward Good showed Kazakh nationals, including children, in training in Syria.

Kazakhstan has formally designated the Islamic State (IS) group as a terrorist organization, according to reports in local news media on November 2.

An announcement of the ruling by an Astana court was posted on the website of the committee on legal statistics and special accounting of the Prosecutor-General of Kazakhstan.

Although the announcement states that the court decision was made on October 15, it appears not to have been published until November 2.

In designating IS as a terrorist organization, Kazakhstan has lagged behind other Central Asian states and Russia.

As the news website noted, "Until now, IS has not appeared in the list of banned extremist and terrorist groups in the Republic of Kazakhstan."

Russia's Supreme Court issued a ruling in December 2014 that recognized IS's activity as terrorist and banning it throughout Russia.

A court in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, followed suit in March, ruling that IS was a terrorist and extremist group.

Tajikistan's Supreme Court designated IS as a terror group in May, after a scandal in which Gulmurod Khalimov, а U.S.-trained commander of Tajikistan's elite police force, defected to IS.

And news reports have said that IS is banned in Uzbekistan, though the group has not been formally designated a terrorist organization.

Why The Delay?

Kazakhstan's delay in formally designating IS as a terror group is somewhat surprising given the Central Asian state's concerns about IS recruitment and radicalization, and Astana's extreme sensitivity to reports of Kazakh nationals fighting alongside IS.

These concerns have led Kazakhstan to issue widespread bans on Internet resources that it deems show IS propaganda.

In November 2014, Kazakhstan banned an "illegal" video showing ethnic Kazakh children appearing to undergo IS training.

Kazakhstan has also blocked websites, including foreign news sites, that it says are showing IS material. Last month, a court in Astana ruled to block access to the video-sharing site Vimeo on the grounds that it is promoting IS propaganda.

So why has Kazakhstan only now officially designated IS as a terror group?

"I'm surprised Kazakhstan hadn't already done this. Entire families have left Kazakhstan for Syria and Iraq," says Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL's Qishloq Ovozi blogger on Central Asia. "I'd like to think IS just slipped through the cracks of Kazakhstan's terror group list, but I doubt it."

Kazakhs In IS

One reason for Kazakhstan's move to formally designate IS could be part of an attempt to crack down even harder on IS recruitment and radicalization.

Over the past months, Kazakh nationals fighting alongside IS have become more visible, including on social media.

It is increasingly hard for Kazakhstan to block access to IS-related materials showing or in some cases produced by Kazakh nationals.

Last month, a Kazakh IS militant who calls himself Abu Aisha Kazakhi shared a video showing a small child undergoing military training in IS-controlled territory.

Abu Aisha, who lives in Mosul. has also published photographs of his son and other Kazakh children in IS-controlled Iraq.

Coinciding With Kerry?

Could Kazakhstan's decision to publish its announcement that IS has been formally designated a terror group have been timed to coincide with the November 2 visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry?

Kerry had already visited Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and was set to also visit Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. His tour of Central Asia is intended not only to boost commercial links between Central Asian states but also security cooperation in the face of the IS threat.

Kerry's tour comes as Moscow is using the "IS threat" to boost its own influence in the region.

Days before Kerry's Central Asian tour, Russia issued another dire warning about the threat posed by IS militants seeking to infiltrate the region from Afghanistan.

The head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, said that IS poses an increased threat to Central Asia and warned militants were creating cells in order to carry out "terrorist and diversionary attacks" in CIS countries.

During his own visit to Kazakhstan earlier this month, Putin -- who has been using the IS threat to push for increased military cooperation with Central Asia since December -- said that Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries could create a joint task force to protect the grouping's external borders against the threat of terrorist infiltration from Afghanistan.

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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