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Mystery Of Missing Tajik OMON Commander Deepens

Gulmurod Halimov disappeared on April 23 after telling his wife he would be traveling on business for three days.
Gulmurod Halimov disappeared on April 23 after telling his wife he would be traveling on business for three days.

The mystery of a missing Tajik special-forces commander has deepened, with Turkish reports claiming he was captured with fake documents trying to enter Syria and extradited, and Dushanbe denying he was returned home while acknowledging it is investigating his possible ties to the Islamic State (IS) group.

The latter marks the first time that Tajik authorities have publicly discussed last month's disappearance of Gulmurod Halimov, one of Tajikistan's most powerful police chiefs.

Halimov, the commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry's special forces, known as OMON, disappeared on April 23 after telling his wife he would be traveling on business for three days.

His disappearance sparked reports that he had recruited fighters for IS and headed to Syria to fight. Those reports were followed up this week by Turkish media with claims that the long-serving colonel had been arrested in Turkey while trying to enter Syria with a fake passport and extradited to Tajikistan.

Tajik Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmonov told reporters on May 20 that authorities were investigating the initial allegations. Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda also mentioned the investigation, the results of which he said would be made public by the end the week, but denied the latest reports that Halimov had been arrested and extradited.

Quizzed by journalists over Halimov's alleged intention to join IS militants, the minister said only that "we'll talk about it later."

Halimov's brother Nazir told RFE/RL's Tajik Service earlier this month that the family was "extremely worried" because Halimov, a 40-year-old father of eight, hadn't contacted anyone since leaving home.

Nazir said Halimov's mobile phone was apparently turned off and that he had not been using his social-network accounts.

The family said Halimov left home after giving his wife around $200 in spending money, less than the amount he usually gave her before going on business trips.

Quoting unnamed sources, Tajik media reported that Halimov left Dushanbe on May 1 along with 10 other men. The following day Halimov and his companions were allegedly seen at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport.

Halimov's family has rejected as baseless reports suggesting the colonel left for Syria to join IS militants there. The family also said reports claiming Halimov had been gathering material from social media about IS's ideology and its military capabilities "don't make any sense."

Tajik media quoted unidentified sources as claiming Halimov had shown growing interest in IS activists in recent months.

The Asia-Plus news agency quoted a "friend" as saying Halimov "turned into an IS fanatic and began to promote the terrorist organization's ideas among his friends and acquaintances."

Halimov's brother, however, portrayed him as a family man who has been planning private business projects, including a chicken farm and a fitness center.

A lawyer by profession, Halimov was appointed as the head of OMON in 2012.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reports by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Mirzonabi Kholiqzod and Shahlo Gulkhoja

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