Tajikistan: Islamic state a real threat or a bogey?

In recent years, statements by Tajik authorities regarding ISIS (banned organization in Russia — approx. ed.) wore a confused, chaotic and contradictory — on the one hand they warn about the looming threat from religious extremists, and on the other claim that they have everything under control.

In January, a senior security official told reporters that the number of Tajik citizens who joined the ranks of ISIS in 2016, dropped to just a few dozen. But at least one recent report indicates that not everything is so rosy. According to the data located in the Hague International centre to combat terrorism, the number of Tajiks who took part last year in the suicide operations in Syria and Iraq, a significant concern.

For the period from December 2015 to November 2016 of the 186 foreign citizens acting as suicide bombers, the largest group — 28 people — are citizens of Tajikistan.

“During these 12 months, the number of Tajiks who took part in the suicide bombing and other suicide bombers carried out operations in Syria and Iraq exceeds the number of other foreign nationals. This number is even more impressive if you calculate the number of suicide bombers per capita, and indicates that the Tajiks choose the role of suicide at least partly because of their nationality,” the report notes.

“Although something similar happens with the citizens of other States, occupying a leading position in the list, a disproportionate number of citizens of Tajikistan is very strange,” added the study authors.

Anecdotal reports also point to possible emerging new trend. Due to the significant setbacks in Syria and Iraq in recent times, “recruits” from Tajikistan, apparently, began to strive in neighboring Afghanistan.

According to reports, earlier this month a group of five men from the Khatlon region of Tajikistan (married couple with three children) was detained in Iran near the border with Afghanistan. They allegedly went to the camp of ISIS. Radio “Ozodi” reported that the family first went to Russia, and then through Turkey was in the Iranian province of Zahedan.

According to information “Ozodi”, the family came under the influence of militants from the city of Nurek in the South of Tajikistan. During a trip to Nurek in April 2016, the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon lamented the negligence of local officials whose actions contributed to the growth in the number of local residents who joined in radical groups. The allegations of the Tajik security forces, a native of Nurek Anushervon Asimov before his death in Syria last year, has recruited “hundreds” of citizens into the ranks of ISIS.

Another example is the case of 29-year-old Tajik citizen Mohammed street, on which the state office of public Prosecutor of Tajikistan recently opened a criminal case. Radio “Ozodi” reported that the Agency suspects the street in an almost successful attempt to sneak into Afghanistan via the Iranian province of Zahedan.

But it is unclear whether these individual cases a symptom of a trend.

“Given the complexity and the failure in Syria, it seems likely that more and more Tajik citizens will be sent to Afghanistan [via Russia]. But I don’t think they will be able to significantly influence the situation. Rather, they will be cannon fodder,” said EurasiaNet.org Edward lemon, an expert on Tajikistan, exploring the phenomenon of recruitment by the militant radicals.

Provided by the Tajik authorities, the fragmented and confusing information prevents independent analysts to analyse the situation carefully.

At a meeting held on 20 January a press-conferences the Minister of internal Affairs of Tajikistan, Ramazon Rahimzoda said that in 2016 the ranks of ISIL entered, 41 citizens of the Republic. He also confirmed a suspicion that a growing number of Tajiks to participate in the fighting going in Afghanistan, but could not name any specific figures. “I went to Afghanistan and did not consider them,” he told reporters.

However, according to Rahimzoda, on the Afghan-Tajik border were up to 15 thousand fighters.

The Prosecutor General of Tajikistan Rahmon Yusuf said at a press conference in February, the Tajik authorities over the past year has blocked more than 2 thousands of sites of the radical wing. According to him, also at the request of the authorities of 4.2 was removed thousands of videos of “terrorist nature”.

However, Rahmon first decided not to call the number of Tajik citizens, which are believed to be fighting now in Syria and other places. This caused the local media suspected that this information was classified.

The media had previously reported that in the ranks of ISIS are about 1-2 thousand Tajiks.

According to reports, in September last year, Rahimzoda said that over the previous 18 months was able to return to the country of more than 150 citizens who fought in the ranks of foreign militant groups, including 133 former members of ISIS. If this information is true, then the number of Tajik citizens fighting abroad may not only have nearly stopped growing, but could even be reduced.

Although the number of Tajiks in the ranks of ISIS are relatively small, they, apparently, enjoyed great prestige. A famous commander ISIS Gulmurod Khalimov, who joined this terrorist organization in early 2015, was previously a senior officer of the Tajik OMON. According to some reports, Khalimov recently received one of the highest posts in the hierarchy of ISIS.

“Improving Khalimova, apparently, is a well-crafted strategy [ISIS]. He not only possesses the necessary qualifications, being an ex-Colonel of special forces, but his appointment to a high office can also help with recruitment of new recruits from among the Russian speakers, including Tajiks”, — stated in the published earlier this year, the report located in Singapore’s International centre for the study of political violence and terrorism.