DUSHANBE -- For the first half of this year, the number of Tajik militants in Syria and Iraq remains unchanged, authorities say.
That lack of an increase is welcome news for Tajik authorities, who in past years would give an ever-higher estimate for the number of radicalised citizens fighting in the Middle East. It appears to signify that Tajik newcomers to the Middle East no longer outpace attrition, namely, the statistical effect of Tajiks who either are killed or are going home.
It also means, as Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimzoda said at a news conference July 22, "The number of young people going to Syria has fallen sharply."
"We have identified more than 1,000 Tajiks who are fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "That figure is unchanged from the one ... last year."
"Out of this number, 150 are women," Rakhimzoda added.
Outreach and police work are succeeding
The stagnant number of Tajik militants reflects success in the Interior Ministry (MVD)'s hard work at anti-extremism outreach, Rakhimzoda said, citing "numerous" public discussions both conducted by MVD personnel and involving ex-militants who voluntarily came back from Syria.
"An educated and sensible person will not enter the ranks of the ['Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL)] to kill others," Rakhimozda said. "He [or she] will work for the good of his [or her] homeland."
That said, recruiting of young Tajiks by terrorist and extremist groups continues inside Tajikistan, Rakhimzoda said.
During the first six months of 2016, Tajik law enforcement detained 368 terrorist group members, Rakhimzoda said. The arrestees include 133 ISIL, 18 Muslim Brotherhood and 10 Islamic Movement of Turkestan members, he said.
So far this year, Tajik law enforcement has broken up four terrorist plots, Rakhimzoda added.
The suspects "came back from Syria specifically for this purpose", he said, listing the intended target cities as Dushanbe, Qurghonteppa, Khujand and Panjakent.
"Everybody involved has been arrested," Rakhimzoda said.
Tajik police were busy throughout the first half of 2016, recording 1,047 extremism- and terrorism-linked offences, Rakhimzoda said.
Youth radicalisation still a concern
Even though the number of Tajik militants in Syria and Iraq at least has stopped growing, Rakhimzoda expressed concern that radicalism remains attractive to some youths.
"Tajik citizens, particularly the young, continue to join extremist and terrorist groups," he said. "Distribution of [illegal] pamphlets in Tajikistan ... is always ISIL's idea."
The suspected terrorists plotting to strike the four cities "all received their orders from ISIL", he said.
Since 2013, Interpol has placed about 1,400 Tajik citizens on its international wanted list "in connection with suspicions of extremism and terrorism", Tajik police Lt. Col. Jamshed Mashrabzoda, Interpol's representative in Tajikistan, said at the same news conference.
Recognising the difficulty of defeating terrorism, Tajikistan co-operates with Turkey and other Central Asian states, Mashrabzoda said.
Recent, deadly terrorist attacks in Turkey and Kazakhstan have prompted Tajik authorities to beef up security, Rakhimzoda said.
"We always try to ensure that such incidents don't happen in Tajikistan too," Rakhimzoda said. "If any information appears, we direct all our resources there."
"You never know why someone has come to see you, or what his [or her] intentions are," Tajik Mufti Saidmukaram Abdukodirzoda told Caravanserai. "It's better to stay watchful around everyone."