BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz authorities continue to arrest suspected militants accused of trying to go to Syria, even as they see fewer and fewer citizens taking that dangerous route.
Hundreds of Kyrgyz are fighting for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, with some perishing.
Recently Kyrgyz authorities arrested a foreign national who allegedly had extremist intent.
The foreigner, "temporarily living in Chui Province, was detained in Bishkek ... July 21", Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesman Makenbai Umurzakov told Caravanserai. "He was carrying a sawed-off shotgun, ammunition, masks [and other suspicious items]."
The suspect was plotting a number of crimes in Bishkek and in surrounding Chui Province, authorities determined. They are seeking any accomplices.
"He turned out to belong to a 'jihadist' movement," Umurzakov said. "We filed criminal charges ... and are trying to find if he has ties to extremist movements and international terrorist groups."
Kyrgyz authorities made another extremism-linked arrest the night of July 31-August 1 at Osh International Airport.
Twenty-year-old A. M. of Leilek District, Batken Province, was planning to fly to a city in a CIS country and then to Istanbul, from where he intended to hitchhike to Syria, according to the Osh Province MVD office.
"He admitted this during his preliminary interrogation," State National Security Committee (GKNB) spokesman Ulanbek Jalildinov told Caravanserai. "He chose this flight so that he would not come under suspicion."
"However ... A. M. admitted to a passenger whom he knew that he was going to Turkey," Jalildinov said of the suspect's downfall. The passenger relayed the information to the police.
A. M. came under the influence of three relatives who had already gone to Syria, the MVD learned.
"His ... brother, sister and nephew all urged him to join the 'jihad'," Jalildinov said. "They did that regularly through WhatsApp and Odnoklassniki."
The authorities found 47 pro-"jihadist" videos and audio files on A. M.'s Odnoklassniki page, Jalildinov said.
Some poorly educated youth come under great pressure from extremist relatives and do not know how to respond, Akimbek Kamalov, an imam in Kyzyl-Kiya, Batken Province, told Caravanserai.
"Young people, starting from their teen-aged years ... are in a transition period," he said. "Extremist recruiters take advantage ... of wavering youth."
Regular mosque attendance can give children the information they need, he said.
"Each worshipper ... should receive clear answers from a cleric to save him [or her] from a phony 'jihad'," he said.
Halting a tragedy
The Syrian war is a tragedy engulfing Kyrgyz youth, Irsalat Borubayeva, a resident of Kulundu village, Batken Province, told Caravanserai.
"Muslims are fighting Muslims," she said. "Some of our guys will never come back."
However, although numbers are hard to come by, many Kyrgyz like Borubayeva see a decline in the popularity of militancy.
Vigorous outreach work conducted by local officials starting last year has virtually halted the departures of local youth to Syria and Iraq, Borubayeva said.
"We can't stop," she said. "Isolated cases still occur."
Extremism has nothing to do with Islam, Kyrgyz Mufti Maksat haji Toktomushev said in a July 21 interview published by the muftiate.
To underscore the illegitimacy of extremism, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK) assigns great significance to preventing it, he said.
"Last year the DUMK ... held 818 events," he said, describing a number of clergy training sessions and outreach events held in mosques and seminaries.
All those events have driven down the number of youth going to Syria, Toktomushev said, agreeing with Borubayeva.
"Those who went were impoverished and ignorant about religion," he said. "Some went because they heard lies about generous pay."
"At the beginning of the year, we approved a year-long programme and drew up presentations to be given during Friday prayers," he said.