BISHKEK -- A long-notorious terrorist group in Kyrgyzstan apparently suffered a major reverse June 10.
Authorities that day in Bishkek detained four suspected members of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM, Army of the Righteous Redeemer of Islam), including the terrorist group's suspected leader.
All four are accused of committing crimes to promote extremism and of recruiting young Kyrgyz to join the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in Syria. They face charges of carrying out a number of robberies and participating in extremist and terrorist acts.
The accused leader of JAM is Beknazar Mamytov, 36.
Banned since 2012
JAM, a Kyrgyz terrorist group founded in 2010 that took the name of an Iraqi sectarian militia, has been banned in Kyrgyzstan since October 24, 2012.
"This gang has left behind a trail of attacks on shopping centres, commercial establishments and well-to-do citizens," Rasul Egemberdiyev, one of the investigators involved in this criminal case, told Central Asia Online in an interview.
The four are accused of robbing a currency exchange in Bishkek March 13, when a hail of gunfire injured the exchange's guard.
Mamytov is a hardened ex-con.
"He and his accomplices robbed a local businessman of $1.5m [about 102m KGS] at the Osh airport on November 28, 2009," Egemberdiyev said. "He was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment but was amnestied in 2013."
Police caught up with Mamytov and his three suspected accomplices in an apartment building in Bishkek.
They found a treasure trove of evidence in searching the four men's residence, the Interior Ministry (MVD) press office said in a statement.
The evidence included "seven extremist books, [extremist] DVDs and cellphones with ISIL files", the MVD said. Police also reported finding bullets and drugs.
Police say they have established ties between the four suspects and various crime rings.
A violent history
Mamytov is accused of being the second leader in JAM's young history. The group's previous commander, Tariel Jumagulov, was killed in a gun battle with security forces in a Bishkek suburb last July 16.
In his short time as JAM's suspected leader, Mamytov "recruited youth to join ISIL", Ulanbek Jalildinov of the Kyrgyz State National Security Committee (GKNB) told Central Asia Online. "He and his accomplices sought out Kyrgyz aged 18 to 23 who attended mosques or went to gyms ... The extremists selected the fittest and most ideologically compatible youth to go fight in Syria."
Mamytov at some point took an oath (bayat) to continue his terrorist activities and to persuade Kyrgyz youth to support insurgents in Syria, Jalildinov said.
The four JAM suspects "took money in robberies ... to finance Kyrgyz [militants'] trips to Syria and to pay their own supporters to recruit other youth into crime rings", Jalildinov said.
Shake-downs by extremists
Extremists who extort money or commit robberies are not unknown to Kyrgyz business owners.
Tashbolot Ismailov, a Bishkek importer of Kazakhstani construction materials, has encountered individuals who demand "tribute" payments, ostensibly to support Muslims.
"At first I didn't know why they were collecting money and didn't even doubt their honesty," he told Central Asia Online. "But then my business partners found out that the money they collected was going ... to finance extremist activities and to support radicals."
Signs of progress
Police, though, are making progress against crime, newly appointed Interior Minister Kashkar Junushaliyev said in Bishkek June 14.
In the first five months of 2016, crime in Kyrgyzstan fell by 3.2% compared to the same period in 2015, he said.
During the first five months of 2016, police "arrested 128 people on the MVD watchlist of members of organised crime rings", he added.
The police are committed to fighting crime and terrorism, he reiterated.