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| Terrorism

Tajikistan cracks down on new extremist group

By Negmatullo Mirsaidov

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Khoja Nazar Mosque in B. Ghafurov District, Sughd Province, is shown August 16. Two suspected extremists are accused of trying to recruit inside the mosque. [Negmatullo Mirsaidov]

DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities are warning about the presence of an extremist splinter group inside their country.

In late July, State National Security Committee (GKNB) personnel in Sughd Province arrested two men from the province: I. Sh. of Ghafurov village and A. A. of Isfisor, B. Ghafurov District.

Both suspects, in their initial interrogation, confessed to being members of an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) splinter group, Sodiqlar.

The GKNB has "irrefutable evidence" of the suspects' extremism, a source in the GKNB who requested anonymity told Caravanserai.

The investigation is proceeding.

Both men allegedly were recruited by N. N., a resident of B. Ghafurov District who became acquainted with them in a local mosque in 2014 and who is also wanted by authorities, the GKNB source said. "N. N. urged [them] to join Sodiqlar in establishing an Islamic state in Tajikistan," the source said.

The defendants made some efforts to recruit residents of B. Ghafurov District but failed, authorities say.

This is not the first time Tajik authorities have heard of Sodiqlar.

In 2013, "we heard of this group when we were investigating 16 suspects in Spitaman and Panjakent districts [also in Sughd Province]", the GKNB source said. "At that time, investigators considered Sodiqlar part of an existing movement, not a separate one."

Collapse of the IMU

A reason for new and splinter extremist groups to pop up in Central Asia is the disarray within the IMU after its leaders' violent deaths in Afghanistan, Tajik officials say.

The IMU's known commanders have been routinely killed in action in South Asia, but its biggest losses were the deaths of co-founders Juma Namangani (in 2001 in Afghanistan) and Takhir Yuldashev (Yuldash) (in 2009 in Pakistan), Karimboi Komilov, a spokesman for the Sughd Province prosecutor's office, told Caravanserai.

After they died, "the IMU lost its vibrant sources of ideological inspiration", Komilov said. "The movement's disintegration was to be expected."

"One example of the group's fragmentation along ethnic lines is Sodiqlar -- made up of ethnic Uzbeks -- and Jamaat Ansarullah, which draws ethnic Tajik radicals together and was formed a few years ago," Komilov added.

Escaping prosecution

Komilov has another theory about the emergence of Sodiqlar. It might be only a legal dodge.

"Extremist groups might be inventing names to avoid prosecution," he said. "Tajikistan considers the IMU a terrorist ... organisation. The new name, which doesn't appear on our list of outlawed organisations, could allow extremists to operate more freely."

Co-operating against extremism

Extremists in Tajikistan are looking for the disgruntled and the vulnerable, officials from the Sughd Province office of the Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR) say.

The alleged Sodiqlar case in Sughd Province jibes with "how [extremists] recruit migrant workers in a certain nearby country", Sukhrob Rustamzoda, chief of the Sughd Province office of the KDR, told Caravanserai. "They give jobless people the chance to make money."

"Recruitment starts with assignments that look harmless," Rustamzoda said. "They include handing out literature, helping to run or taking over youth groups, and showing mercy to people who've hit hard times."

"Ignorant young people who do this work ... unwittingly end up in debt [to their employers] or turn into extremists after running into legal trouble," he said.

"The only effective way to fight terrorism ... is to have all branches of government, of mahalla [neighbourhood] councils and of the clergy work together," Rustamzoda said.

Mosques are for good behaviour, not evil intentions

Imam-khatib Mirmukhammad Mirzoyev has headed the Khoja Nazar mosque in B. Ghafurov District for seven years. The suspected Sodiqlar members tried to recruit inside his mosque, the GKNB says.

Before every Friday prayer, Mirzoyev urges his flock to do good deeds.

"As a representative of the local clergy, I always try to keep youth from going down the wrong path," Mirzoyev said. "The cruelty and violence that extremists urge followers to commit is condemned by Allah's own law - the holy Koran."

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