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Tajik Father Stunned By Son's Arrest In Germany On Terror Charges

Sunatulloh Karimov's family knew little about his life in Germany. (undated)
Sunatulloh Karimov's family knew little about his life in Germany. (undated)

KULOB, Tajikistan -- Vali Karimov, a taxi driver from the southern Tajik district of Muminobod, thought his son was living a respectable life in Germany with a wife he met there and the two children they've had together.

That all changed on April 16 when Tajik investigators knocked on their door to ask about his 24-year-old son, Sunatulloh Karimov. That's when the family learned that Sunatulloh was one of five Tajiks arrested in Germany for allegedly plotting Islamic State (IS) terrorist attacks.

In fact, the news of their arrests -- announced by German prosecutors on April 15 -- also came as a surprise to the authorities in Tajikistan. That's because the suspects had never been listed by the domestic security services as potential terrorists, sources say.

Vali Karimov tells RFE/RL that his son moved to Germany in 2016 and married a "German" woman there.

The third of Vali Karimov’s four children, Sunatuloh was born and raised in the remote rural district of Muminobod near the border with Afghanistan.

His father says Sunatulloh left their village for Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, in search of work in 2012 because the family didn't have enough money for him to continue his studies.

Still a teenager, Sunatulloh found a job at a private shop selling automobile parts in Dushanbe. According to his father, Sunatulloh also became interested in learning languages and became "quite fluent in English and Russian."

Sunatulloh traveled to Germany four times along with his Dushanbe-based business partner between 2012 and 2016 to restock the shop, his father recalls.

'We Call Her Aisha'

Sunatulloh's last business trip to Germany was in 2016. But he didn't return home. Instead, Sunatulloh told his parents that he'd decided to stay in Germany permanently.

Back in Tajikistan, Sunatulloh's family knew little about his new life in Germany, other than a few scarce details he shared during telephone conversations.

Sunatulloh told his parents that he met his future wife -- an intern at a dental clinic -- when he sought treatment for a toothache. He told them the woman converted to Islam and changed her name to Aisha.

"We call her Aisha. We don't know what her original name was," Vali Karimov says about the daughter-in-law he has never met.

Shocked by the news of Sunatulloh's arrest, his father says the family contacted Aisha for an explanation about what had happened. He says Aisha told them the arrest was a "mix-up" and that "he will be freed" soon. She also told the family not to worry.

He says Aisha told them the couple had been due to move into an apartment under a German social-housing project following the birth of their second child.

Until his arrest, Sunatulloh was believed to be still actively involved in his old business in Dushanbe, sending spare parts from Germany.

RFE/RL obtained contact details for Sunatulloh's business associate, identified by sources as Nurmuhammad M. But he did not respond to phone calls and has not been present at his workplace for several days.

Alleged Leader Of IS Cell

The government in Dushanbe hasn't publicly commented on the arrests. Tajik officials and diplomats say they have yet to receive official notification from Germany about the case.

But Tajik sources told RFE/RL that law enforcement agencies in the Central Asian country began their own investigation after international media reported about the arrests. Those sources said there were still many things that domestic intelligence services do not know about the five suspects arrested in Germany.

German prosecutors have released only the first names and last initials of the suspects -- identifying them as Azizjon B., Farhodshoh K., Muhammadali G., Sunatulloh K, and Ravshan B. and that they ranged in age from 24 to 32.

German authorities also said Ravshan B. was thought to be the ringleader of an IS cell in Germany.

According to the German authorities, all of the suspects arrived in Germany as asylum seekers.
According to the German authorities, all of the suspects arrived in Germany as asylum seekers.

Four of the suspects were arrested at different locations in the western German state of North Rhine Westphalia during police raids that involved some 350 officers early on April 15.

German police said Ravshan B. has been in custody since March 15, 2019.

Sources in Tajikistan told RFE/RL that the alleged ringleader's full name was Ravshan Boqiev. They said he had lived in Dushanbe prior to leaving for Russia several years ago.

According to the German authorities, all of the suspects arrived in Germany as asylum seekers. North Rhine Westphalia Interior Minister Herbet Reul said German police "have had the suspects in [their] sights for a long time."

German officials allege that the five men pledged allegiance to IS in January 2019 and had been getting instructions from two high-ranking IS figures in Syria and Afghanistan.

The 30-year-old Boqiev is alleged to have been a contact person between a Germany-based cell and IS. He also allegedly distributed instructions to the others on how to make explosive devices.

German news weekly Der Spiegel has reported that Boqiev came to the attention of the German intelligence services in December 2018.

German officials say the group's initial plan was to return to Tajikistan to stage terrorist attacks there. But authorities charge that the suspects subsequently decided to plot attacks in Germany on U.S. military facilities and on an unnamed individual that the group deemed as being critical of Islam.

The German officials say the suspects had already started collecting firearms, ammunition, and bomb-making materials. They say they also began surveillance of their potential targets.

Authorities said the men collected money in Germany to finance their terrorist plans and to send to IS extremists fighting in Syria. Boqiev also accepted $40,000 to carry out an assassination in Albania, according to German media reports.

Those reports say Boqiev and an accomplice traveled to Albania to carry out the contract killing, but returned to Germany after their plan failed.

Many Unknowns

Back in southern Tajikistan, Vali Karimov says he doesn't know anything about Boqiev or the other alleged associates of his son in Germany.

RFE/RL has established that a third suspect is Muhammadali Ghulomov from the Rudaki district, about 17 kilometers south of Dushanbe.

RFE/RL correspondents have yet to obtain further information about Ghulomov and his life in Tajikistan. Nothing is yet known about the other two suspects, identified as Azizjon B. and Farhodshoh K.

Germany's Federal Public Prosecutor says the suspects are currently in pretrial detention and that each is being represented by defense lawyers.

Tajikistan's IS Connections

The government in Dushanbe says about 2,000 Tajik nationals have traveled to Syria and Iraq in recent years to join IS militants.

Some of them have returned to Tajikistan, taking advantage of an amnesty offered by the government.

Dozens of IS extremists were captured by Iraqi, Syrian, Kurdish, and Turkish forces after the fall of the militant group in Syria and Iraq. The exact number of Tajiks killed in fighting and air strikes is not known.

Some Tajik nationals are thought to have joined an IS affiliate in neighboring Afghanistan, while the IS group has claimed responsibility for the killing of four Western cyclists in Tajikistan in July 2018.

Deadly riots at Tajik prisons in November 2018 and May 2019 have also been claimed by the IS group.

  • 16x9 Image

    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

  • 16x9 Image

    Mumin Ahmadi

    Mumin Ahmadi has been a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service since 2008. He graduated from Kulob State University and has worked with Anvori Donish, Millat, Khatlon-Press, and the Center for Journalistic Research of Tajikistan. He was also the editor in chief of Pajwok.

  • 16x9 Image

    Mahmudjon Rahmatzoda

    Mahmudjon Rahmatzoda is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service.