One of Tajikistan's most powerful police leaders has mysteriously vanished, baffling his family and leaving observers to speculate about where the long-serving commander and father of eight might be.
Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry's special forces, known as OMON, disappears on April 23 after telling his wife he would be traveling on business for three days, relatives say.
Halimov's brother Nazir told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the family was "extremely worried," since the OMON commander hasn't contacted anyone since leaving home.
Deputy Interior Minister Ikrom Umarzoda was quoted by Asia Plus news agency as saying he didn't have any information on the colonel.
The authorities have not made any official announcements despite extensive media reports speculating on the missing commander's whereabouts.
Halimov was notably absent from a May 6 meeting of Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda with leading police officers at OMON's headquarters in Dushanbe.
"He hasn't been in touch with anyone by either telephone or Internet," brother Nazir said.
He cited social networks that Halimov used but said that "all his accounts are offline now, and his mobile phone is off, too."
The family said Halimov, a father of eight, left home on April 23 after giving his wife around $200 in spending money, less than the amount he frequently gave her before departing on business trips.
Meanwhile, Tajik media quoted unnamed sources in law enforcement as saying Halimov left Dushanbe on May 1 along with 10 other men.
The following day, Halimov and those companions -- described by one source as mostly unemployed men -- were seen at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, Asia-Plus news agency reported.
Halimov's family dismissed as "baseless" Tajik media suggestions that the colonel had left for Syria to join Islamic State (IS) militants there.
Media quoted unidentified sources as claiming Halimov had shown growing interest in IS activities in recent months.
"He turned into an IS fanatic," Asia-Plus quoted a "friend" as saying, "and began to promote the terrorist organization's ideas among his friends and acquaintances."
"He would angrily reject our advice that joining IS would be a pointless act," the source reportedly said.
The family says such reports -- some of which claim Halimov had been gathering material from social media about IS's ideology and its military capabilities -- "don't make any sense."
Halimov has been planning family business projects, including a chicken farm, brother Nazir said.
He had also purchased building materials to complete the construction of a half-built fitness center, another family business project, Nazir added.
The younger brother said Halimov had long-term business plans and wasn't acting like someone willing to leave the country for good to join a faraway militant group.
As for IS, "He never spoke about it, not even once," Nazir said.
A lawyer by profession, Halimov was appointed head of OMON in 2012.
Once photographed alongside President Emomali Rahmon at an official event, Halimov has received medals and awards for his services to the country.
Tajikistan's 66-strong OMON was established at the height of Tajikistan's civil war, in 1995, to take part in military-style operations.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on an interview by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Mumin Ahmadi and Tajik media reports