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Tajik State News Agency Takes On IS In 'Information War'

Khovar agency chief Zarobiddin Kosimi
Khovar agency chief Zarobiddin Kosimi

Tajikistan's official news agency, Khovar, has launched an "information war" against Islamic State (IS), pushing back against the group's propaganda by publishing reports about its gory killings, enslavement of women, and other abuses.

Zarobiddin Kosimi, who was recently appointed as director of Khovar, told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, that the state news agency is "trying to make a greater contribution to the information war" by making citizens aware of the "inhumane acts" perpetrated by IS.

"I think that the publication of this material must influence readers' thinking," Kosimi said. "When they see with their own eyes the effects of war, they will draw their own conclusions."

Combating Recruitment

Khovar's decision to talk about the dangers of joining IS and the militant group's atrocities comes amid growing fears in the region about IS recruitment.

According to official figures, over 400 Tajiks are fighting alongside IS and over 120 Tajik citizens have been killed in Syria and Iraq.

Tajik militants in IS are visible on social media and various militants have appeared in propaganda videos, including a recent one threatening to overthrow the government in Dushanbe.

Gulmurod Halimov
Gulmurod Halimov

The most well-known of Tajikistan's IS recruits is Gulmurod Halimov, the head of the Interior Ministry special forces (OMON), whose defection to IS in May caused a media storm, though his move should be seen as "unlikely to be representative of the general state of affairs" in the country, according to John Heathershaw, a political scientist who studies Islamic militancy in Tajikistan.

The "information war" is the latest in a series of tactics that Tajikistan has adopted in an attempt to combat recruitment to IS and avoid blowback from returning fighters, including declaring it a banned terror group and revoking the citizenship of Tajiks who fight abroad.

Battlefield Internet

Tajikistan's "information war" reflects the country's fears that Islamic State is using the Internet and particularly social media to radicalize and recruit citizens.

IS disseminates gory videos on the Internet in order to attract "uneducated youth," said Khudoyberdi Kholiknazar, the head of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Tajikistan.

"By showing the true face of the extremists, we are waging an information war against them," Kholiknazar told Radio Ozodi. "We also need to make young people understand that this is a senseless fight and that joining it is meaningless."

Khovar director Kosimi agrees that it is Tajikistan's youth who need to be made to see the reality of IS.

While the older generation is "well aware of the consequences of destabilization," he said, the younger generation is not.

As well as ramping up anti-IS reports on state media, Tajikistan has attempted to stifle IS propaganda by blocking websites relating to 16 groups it says are extremist, including IS.

But the list of banned sites contains just four that Tajikistan says are connected to IS. Of these, one is the homepage of a Britain-based Islamic heritage foundation and another is a now-defunct Facebook page.

IS Counterattack

While Tajikistan wages its "information war," IS has stepped up its own Russian-language propaganda efforts in an attempt to recruit more militants from the former Soviet Union.

The group has launched a new Russian-language media wing, Furat Media and evidence suggests it is involving Central Asian militants in its efforts, with a prominent Tajik militant, Abu Daoud (Parviz Saidrakhmonov) photographed in an IS "media center."

And Russian-speaking IS militants maintain easily-accessible and often public accounts on social media platforms including VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, where they disseminate propaganda and talk about their experiences.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Mumin Ahmadi

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