BISHKEK -- Hard work against extremism is reaping benefits, a top Kyrgyz security official told Caravanserai October 22 in an interview.
The Interior Ministry (MVD) 10th Main Directorate has achieved significant results, directorate deputy chairman Raim Salimov said. His directorate fights extremism and terrorism.
"Our priority ... is to minimise the number of people who leave for war zones in Syria," he said. "We double-checked all the radicals on our watchlist and conducted prevention operations."
About 600 radicalised Kyrgyz are fighting in Syria as militants, according to the Kyrgyz government. More than 50 Kyrgyz have been killed since the war broke out in 2011, the government adds.
The government can say confidently that outreach conducted by the 10th Main Directorate and other agencies has reduced the flow of Kyrgyz militants to Syria, Salimov said, adding that the exodus peaked in 2012-2013.
Observers credited the directorate with effectively fighting radicalism.
"MVD personnel perform their work well, including countering extremism and terrorism," Kadyr Malikov, director of the Bishkek-based think tank Religion, Law and Politics, told Caravanserai. "The MVD was right to begin reforming itself [this year]. If it implements the reform correctly, it will strengthen its personnel's abilities."
The directorate is the principal force fighting extremism and terrorism in Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek-based religious scholar Roman Veitzel told Caravanserai.
"Thanks to the directorate, the most dangerous radical groups are being neutralised," he said.
Improving professional skills, raising public awareness
The MVD has been busy all year. During the first nine months of 2016, the 10th Main Directorate conducted about 8,000 outreach events nationwide, Slaimov said.
During the same time, MVD personnel confiscated 18,641 pieces of extremist literature.
"This year, we opened the Theological Department, which is reviewing the level of education of our officials in the 10th Main Directorate," he said.
Directorate employees have to be "on top of their game" because captured extremists are so difficult to de-programme, Salimov said.
"They've spent time in war zones and been so indoctrinated ... that it's extremely difficult to persuade them to give up their views," he said. "That's why our work is difficult."
The mass media are crucial to fighting extremism and terrorism, since most of the public receives information through them, he said.
"Trust in the police has risen too," he added.
ISIL threat remains high
The MVD has more than 4,500 known extremists on its watchlist, Salimov said.
The threat from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) is not ebbing, Bishkek-based political scientist Toktogul Kakchekeyev warned.
"Our country has created agencies to fight terrorism and they conduct exercises, but as yet their fight hasn't borne real results," he told Caravanserai.
"Many think that Syria is far away and that the threat won't reach us, but they're wrong," Salimov said.
Analysts share ideas, recommendations
The 10th Main Directorate needs to cut off online access to extremist incitements, Veitzel said.
"Extremist sites have been operating for years," he said. "All that time, they've been available to Kyrgyz."
Kakchekeyev suggested bringing back the death penalty to deter terrorism.
"Until they reinstate the death penalty ... people will join terrorist organisations," he predicted.