Radical organizations like the Islamic State (IS) group have started to penetrate into southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan's Andijon region in the east of the Ferghana valley, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (GKNB) has claimed.
GKNB spokesman Rakhat Suleimanov said that the domestic intelligence agency had arrested a large number of individuals earlier this year who were suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.
All of those arrested "came from Syria in various ways," Suleimanov said at a February 26 roundtable organized by Russian government daily, Rossiiskaya gazeta.
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, reported that the GKNB had detained six men in Osh on January 27 on suspicion of planning attacks in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and claimed that four of the detainees had trained in Syria.
Suleimanov said that the aim of the suspects was "the recruitment of our citizens into the ranks of the Islamic State [group], but their main objective was to blow up the Uzbek national security service building in the Andijon region. One of the militants was a would-be suicide bomber, he said.
The January 27 arrests followed a wave of arrests throughout that month, including a 29-year-old man who was accused of sending five relatives to Raqqa in Syria, and a 22-year-old man charged with spending four months in Syria.
Suleimanov said that the GKNB has also arrested a further 36 people who have been remanded in custody on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities.
"They underwent special training in combat in Syria and then came to Kyrgyzstan and started active work," Suleimanov said.
That "active work," Suleimanov added, involved extorting large sums of money by threatening to kill the families of those who resisted. Part of the funds "raised" in this way were sent to Syria and the remaining monies used for recruitment in Kyrgyzstan, he said.
Suleimanov also said that the GKNB had identified a "large quantity of weapons and ammunition caches" which indicated that the Ferghana Valley was "attracting more and more attention from radical forces."
Real Threat Or Overblown?
Some analysts, however, have questioned whether the authorities in Kyrgyzstan are exaggerating the "Islamic State threat" as a means to implement crackdowns.
In a January 30 post on Eurasianet.org, analyst Edward Lemon from the U.K.'s Exeter University said that there was "little evidence to support" the GKNB's claims that there was a growing threat from the Islamic State group in Syria.
"Scaremongering about IS has become an effective way to grab headlines in Central Asia," Lemon wrote, noting recent comments by Kadyr Malikov from the Bishkek-based Religion, Law and Politics analytical center, who claimed that the IS group had allocated $70 million for planning attacks in Central Asia. Malikov "offered no evidence" to back up his statements, Lemon said.
Malikov made the same comments at the Rossiiskaya gazeta roundtable, and this time gave the source of the claim as being a recent international conference in Iran for religious scholars, theologians, and other religion experts.
'Not Critical, But May Get Worse'
Despite his dire predictions and assertions that IS-affiliated militants have been planning attacks in the Ferghana Valley region, GKNB spokesman Suleimanov said that the current situation was "not critical."
"However, I will not hide the fear that it could get worse," he added.
The fear that things "could get worse" is likely to mean that headlines about the Islamic State threat continue to dominate Central Asian discourse in months to come.
Beyond the media narratives, however, Central Asian security and government authorities need to find ways to combat the actual threat posed by Islamic State and other extremist organizations -- after all, while there is no proof to support claims that Islamic State militants are allocating budgets to terror attacks in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, there is evidence to show that Central Asians are among the militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The GKNB announced on March 2 that it was holding a Central Asian forum to discuss ways to counter violent extremism and religious radicalization in the region. Government bodies and academic institutions are participating according to RIA Novosti.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk