Tajik ex-OMON commander rises in ISIL hierarchy

By Nadin Bahrom

Khalimov in Syria, May 2016. [YouTube]

Khalimov in Syria, May 2016. [YouTube]

DUSHANBE -- A former high-ranking Tajik police official has outraged his compatriots by becoming a top member of a notorious Mideastern terrorist group.

On September 3, the Iraqi news agency Alsumaria News reported that Gulmurod Khalimov had become the military commander -- equivalent to a minister of war -- for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

Khalimov was commander of the Tajik Interior Ministry (MVD)'s OMON riot police when he vanished in April 2015. He resurfaced in a May 2015 video filmed somewhere in the Mideast, in which he called himself a committed ISIL member.

His promotion to the top ISIL military post became possible after Georgian-born ISIL militant Abu Umar al-Shishani was killed in Iraq in June.

Trying to protect Khalimov

Having suffered systematic decimation of its leadership ranks, ISIL was cautious about confirming Khalimov's rise, Alsumaria News reported. In fact, ISIL supposedly put Khalimov in Iraq, which it considers safer than Syria, to protect him.

All Tajik law enforcement agencies have orders to prevent any attempted subversion by Khalimov in Tajikistan, Mukhammadmarizo Khalifazoda, a spokesman for the Tajik general prosecutor's office, said recently.

ISIL is hoping that Khalimov's promotion "could increase the number of Russian-speaking insurgents", an anonymous source recently told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Tajik service.

ISIL might also be trying to "move over to Afghanistan" or "threaten Central Asia" as it keeps losing ground in the Mideast, the source added.

Being pursued

Khalimov, who in 2015 took the nickname Abu Malik at-Tochiki, faces the wrath of international and Tajik authorities.

Khalimov is on Interpol's wanted list after Tajikistan filed a request. In his homeland, he faces charges of treason and fighting illegally abroad.

Khalimov is mentally disturbed, Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimzoda said in June, adding that his ministry has the relevant medical documents. In addition, Khalimov is homesick, the minister said.The rogue police official has asked many times about coming home to face charges, Rakhimzoda said.

"However, he lost his chance and can't leave ISIL now," Rakhimzoda said.

Apparently, Khalimov's life as a militant is hardly full of glory.

"After Khalimov joined ISIL, he was wounded," a Tajik security officer who wished to remain anonymous told Caravanserai. "But he's in fighting condition again."

"His presence and position are sufficient to make him a symbol for many people across the former Soviet Union who want to join ISIL," the source said, echoing the RFE/RL source.

Khalimov's second wife, Khumairo Mirova, is wanted too for joining him in the Mideast with their four children. His first wife and their four children stayed in Tajikistan.

Tightening the noose

Tajikistan is co-operating with other countries to track down and eliminate Khalimov, Khalifazoda said. Teamwork by various countries will help locate Khalimov, Nuralishokh Nazarov of Dushanbe, a retired Tajik military man, told Caravanserai.

"There is no doubt that ISIL will use Khalimov ... to recruit newcomers from Central Asia," he said. "That's why he's dangerous."

The loss of foot soldiers and of excitement forced ISIL to promote Khalimov, Dushanbe-based security analyst Nodir Sharipov told Caravanserai.

"ISIL is losing its supporters," he said. "They were chiefly from Central Asia. Now there are fewer of them."

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