Kazakhs turn away from ISIL

By Alexander Bogatik

Muslims June 30 in Jarkent, Almaty Province, attend a DUMK seminar on religious literacy. [Courtesy of DUMK]

Muslims June 30 in Jarkent, Almaty Province, attend a DUMK seminar on religious literacy. [Courtesy of DUMK]

ASTANA -- More than 40 Kazakhstanis abandoned plans to join the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) this year, according to the National Security Committee (KNB), reported in late July.

The abandonment of disastrous personal plans resulted from "increased awareness and prevention efforts" by the government, the KNB said, without describing how would-be militants became known to authorities.

Government agencies, clergy, theologians and political scientists all are working to turn public opinion against terrorism, the KNB said.

Authorities are working to defuse extremist attitudes at the same time that they brace for Kazakhstani militants with domestic terrorism in mind to come back from Syria. So far, security agencies have no knowledge of any attempts by militants to come home from Syria, the KNB added.

Putting Kazakh militants on a wanted list

However, those militants who already have gone to Syria face the prospect of conviction, either in person someday or in absentia now.

Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, several hundred Kazakhstanis, some who took their families with them, have gone to that country to join the militants, Astana says.

Authorities routinely put such fugitives on a wanted list.

Since January 1, they have put four residents of Akmola Province on an international wanted list. The four men, with the surnames Nurgaliyev, Maratuly, Kurashov and Kulanov, went to Syria to fight, the provincial prosecutor's office said.

If the four are convicted, they could face "three to seven years' imprisonment" for "unlawful participation in a foreign war", the provincial prosecutor's press office told Caravanserai.

If the conviction comes while the men are in Syria, the court would sentence them in absentia.

Another suspected militant, Ruslan Kuanov of Shubar, Aktobe Province, went on the same international wanted list in July. He has been fighting for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) since May 2015, according to Kazakhstani intelligence.

The Aktobe Provincial Court's press office July 26 announced the court's issuance of an arrest warrant in absentia for Kuanov. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted.

"Who falls under the influence of extremists and radical ideologues?" Alinur Shpekpayev of Taldykorgan, a religious scholar and specialist for the Almaty Province Department for Religious Affairs, asked. "The uneducated."

Extremists have a laser-like focus on picking out vulnerable members of society for recruitment, he told Caravanserai.

"Someone with poor knowledge of religion is easy to recruit, and so are the poor," he said. "Many deaf-mutes join destructive movements because the clergy ... are incapable of explaining sacred texts without sign language interpreters."

"We need psychologists and people who can work with the disabled," he said. "That said, virtually anyone can be recruited under the right circumstances."

Ideological confrontation continues

Besides prosecuting militants, authorities are working to block their incitements online and are conducting outreach and outreach training nationwide.

On July 25, the Astana city prosecutor's office reported its blocking of 94 pro-extremism websites.

Theologians throughout the various provinces regularly work to bring radicalised citizens back to traditional Islam.

In Aktobe Province so far this year, 215 radicals recanted their views, after "more than 500 meetings with theologians and speakers at the Ansar consultation and rehabilitation centre [in Aktobe city]", a source at Aktobe News, a provincial government news office, told Caravanserai.

In Almaty Province, the provincial Department for Religious Affairs "studies the religious situation", Shpekpayev said. "It studies destructive movements, works with the public and organises various sorts of educational events."

In Kostanay city, Kostanay Province, the provincial Department for Religious Affairs July 21 hosted a training seminar for outreach groups.

"The event focused participants' attention on ... issues like religious policies, the tailoring of outreach messages to various parts of the population and the prevention of extremism," the national government's Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR) said in a statement.

In Astana June 27-28, the Astana-based NGO Akniyet Foundation, supported by the KDR, organised a seminar for anti-extremism specialists and for theologians who conduct outreach work. The seminar, "Targeted work in the religious-radical sphere: strengthening counter-propaganda", resulted in participants concluding that personal work with radicalised individuals is a highly effective way to de-programme them.

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