More than 330 Kyrgyz citizens have joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria and Iraq, the deputy prime minister of Kyrgyzstan, Abdyrakhman Mamataliev, said on April 21.
Around 30 of the Kyrgyz nationals who have joined IS are women, Mamataliev said.
The Kyrgyz deputy prime minister also noted that the republic's law enforcement agencies have information that Kyrgyz nationals are also fighting alongside extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Earlier this month, Rafik Mambetaliev, the head of the Interior Ministry's Department for Combating Organized Crime, said that around 40 Kyrgyz nationals had died fighting alongside militant groups in Syria.
Mambetaliev gave a slightly different breakdown of the figures than did Mamataliev.
Speaking at a symposium in Bishkek on April 16, the Interior Ministry official said that 339 individuals had gone to Syria from Kyrgyzstan, of whom 50 were women and 20 were children.
The figure of 40 dead is also an increase from the 22 said to have been killed in Syria, according to an estimate by the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry in February.
While the Kyrgyz government has given the "official" figure of somewhere around 330 Kyrgyz fighting with IS in Syria and Iraq, some analysts have claimed that the unofficial figure is much higher.
Artur Medetbekov, the former deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan's intelligence service, the National Security Committee (GKNB), told the Vesti.kg news website this month that unofficial data suggests as many as 500 Kyrgyz citizens are fighting in Syria.
Medetbekov painted a bleak picture of the current state of radicalization and recruitment in Kyrgyzstan, blaming members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that is banned across Central Asia and Russia, but which says it is peaceful.
"In the first place, we have lost the information war. The Islamists are waging a tough recruitment [campaign]," Medetbekov said. "The Hizb ut-Tahrir guys brainwash our people to such an extent that people are going to war and taking their families. Their main weapons are ideology and money. And everything happens through social networks and through those who have already gone [to Syria]."
Medetbekov said that it is all too easy for Kyrgyz citizens to reach Syria via Turkey, with which Kyrgyzstan has a no-visa regime.
While the Kyrgyz government is concerned about recruitment and radicalization of Kyrgyz citizens, it is trying to take a more nuanced approach to those who have returned to Kyrgyzstan from Syria and who are not suspected of wrongdoing, according to Ernist Nurmatov, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service.
Kyrgyzstan is particularly concerned that returnees from Syria are "tasked with specific missions" to recruit others and plot terror attacks, according to Rahat Sulaymanov, the spokesman for the GKNB. However, those returnees who can show that they do not pose a threat are released.
The Kyrgyz authorities have so far detained 44 people who returned to the republic from Syria; eight have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses including taking part in military training or spreading Islamic extremist ideas.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk