A social-media account run by an Islamic State (IS) militant who claims to be from Kazakhstan has posted a number of photographs of Central Asian children, some of whom he claims are ethnic Kyrgyz.
The militant, who calls himself Artyom, maintained an account on the Russian-language social network VKontakte until it was blocked on June 13. RFE/RL has obtained screen grabs of several of his posts, including those where he posted photographs of Central Asian children.
Artyom claimed on his VKontakte account that he is from Atyrau, Kazakhstan's main Caspian Sea port. He posted a photograph of himself on June 9 sitting in front of a store with two small boys whom he claimed were Kyrgyz children. The boys, both of whom appear to be under the age of 10, are dressed in military fatigues.
A search of the photos on Artyom's blocked account, however, shows that the militant appears to have deleted the photograph of the Kyrgyz children before his account was banned, perhaps because the picture attracted the attention of reporters and of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (GKNB).
On June 13, the pro-Kremlin Russian-language website Sputnik.kg reported that the GKNB said it was examining the photograph. "This information should be checked. There are representatives of several nations there [in IS-controlled territories] who are similar in appearance to us. This situation needs to be clarified," official GKNB spokesman Rahat Sulaymanov was quoted as saying.
Kyrgyz Children, Ethnic Uzbeks In Syria
On May 28, Sulaymanov said that according to official figures there were some 300 Kyrgyz citizens fighting alongside IS militants in Syria. Some of the militants had taken their families with them, including "up to 10 small children," Sulaymanov was quoted as saying.
The Interior Ministry's Antiterrorism 10th Department said that there were 352 Kyrgyz nationals in Syria and Iraq, of whom 49 are women and 22 are minors, the 24.kg website reported on June 15.
The presence of Kyrgyz nationals in Syria and Iraq has been a sensitive topic for Bishkek, which has tried to downplay the presence of its citizens in IS-controlled areas. The GKNB has even blamed the country's ethnic Uzbek population for the Kyrgyz presence in Syria and Iraq, claiming that as many as 80 percent of Kyrgyz citizens fighting alongside IS are ethnic Uzbeks.
The Interior Ministry's 10th Department has made similar claims, stating as many as that 249 of 352 Kyrgyz nationals in Syria and Iraq are ethnic Uzbeks.
The ministry has not provided evidence to back up the claims, however.
Some analysts say that there are probably more than 352 Kyrgyz citizens in IS-controlled territories in Syria and Iraq.
A report published in January by the International Crisis Group (ICG) found that between 2,000 and 4,000 citizens from across the five ex-Soviet Central Asian states -- Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan -- have gone to Syria to fight alongside IS and other militant groups.
Some Kyrgyz officials have also begun to admit that the actual number of Kyrgyz citizens fighting in Syria could be a lot higher than the official figures suggest.
Ryspek Abdysatarov, a representative of Kyrgyzstan's Secretariat of the Council of Defense, said at a June 16 roundtable on security in Central Asia that unofficial evidence points to a far larger figure than the official 352 Kyrgyz. "The number who went to Syria may be 1,000 people. People from the southern provinces [of Kyrgyzstan] are mainly going to Syria," Abdysatarov was quoted as saying by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.
And there is evidence to suggest that there are likely more than just 10 or even 22 Kyrgyz children in IS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria.
ICG's Central Asia Project director, Deirdre Tynan, told RFE/RL on June 15 that IS recruitment to Syria and Iraq was "ongoing in Kyrgyzstan." "When Crisis Group spoke with would-be migrants in southern Kyrgyzstan last year, some of these were women with children, from infants to teenagers, and they intended to bring them to Syria with them," she said.
The would-be migrants told ICG that the teenagers were aware of what going to Syria meant and that they wanted to go. "I also know of at least one birth to a Kyrgyz couple in Syria," Tynan added. "In this case, the young woman's mother left Kyrgyzstan to be with her daughter and grandchild in Syria late last year. All that remains of the family in Kyrgyzstan is the father and a school-age boy."
Kazakhs In IS
Like their Kyrgyz counterparts, Kazakh militants fighting alongside IS militants in Syria have also claimed to have brought their families with them.
A video posted online in November 2013 showed a group of about 150 Kazakh militants who claimed to have brought their wives and children with them to Syria.
Like neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has been very sensitive about the issue of ethnic Kazakh children in IS-controlled territories. Last year, the Kazakh government banned an IS propaganda video that claimed to show a group of Kazakh children undergoing military training.
Artyom's social-media account is likely to have upset the Kazakh authorities, because it also showed photographs of at least two ethnic Kazakh children, which the IS militant claimed were his son and daughter.
On his now-deleted VKontakte account, Artyom posted photographs of a boy he identifies as "my son, Abdrakhman." The photo shows a boy who appears to be under 10 and who is sitting in front of a black IS flag.
Other photographs show Artyom with the boy and a girl he refers to as his daughter.
In another photograph, an unidentified boy who appears to be Central Asian is shown holding a gun and raising one finger aloft in the gesture popular among IS militants. The child is dressed in military fatigues.
One photograph shows a small Central Asian boy holding a large hunting knife.
The captions to two of the photographs of Artyom's children stated that they were taken in Istanbul in 2012, suggesting that the Kazakh militant spent some time there before coming to Syria, or that he simply traveled via Turkey to Syria.
Artyom's social-media account offers a glimpse into the thoughts of a Kazakh IS militant.
Although Artyom has brought at least two of his children with him to IS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, the Kazakh militant either has not brought the children's mother or is seeking to find a second wife.
In several of his now-deleted posts, Artyom writes that he wants a wife. One image he posted states, "Peace to the world. And to me, a wife, please."
Artyom also expresses grief for IS militants who have died, writing in one post on June 8, "how hard it is to lose close friends in jihad. Abu Hamza was like a brother to me."
In another post, Artyom praises Uzbek "martyrs" -- militants who have died fighting alongside IS.
He has also posted photographs of himself alongside other militants in what he calls an IS "media room."
Threatening Central Asia
In a June 7 post, Artyom threatened that IS militants would come to Central Asia. "Inshallah [God willing] we will reach from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan to Tajikistan," he wrote.
Once there, the militant group would set about releasing imprisoned Central Asians, Artyom promised. "By Allah, brothers we have not forgotten about you, who are imprisoned by the infidels. Soon we will release you," he wrote.
While other Central Asian militants have made threats to return and fight in their home countries, there is no evidence to suggest that IS's leaders are encouraging them to do so.
In fact, it seems that IS has refused permission to some Central Asian militants who asked to return home and wage "jihad" there.
A group of Tajik militants said in January that they were told they had to stay in Syria when they asked IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for permission to return to Tajikistan and fight alongside an extremist group there.