JALAL-ABAD PROVINCE, Kyrgyzstan -- The exodus of an estimated 600 Kyrgyz extremists to battlefields in Syria and Iraq is causing heartbreak and dread back home.
Anguished mothers include Khalyskan Japarkulova of Bek-Abad village, Jalal-Abad Province.
Recently she heard that her son had been killed in Syria, but she refuses to believe it.
"This August, someone left a crumpled piece of paper in my front yard stating that my son Mansur [Japarkulov] allegedly died ... and was buried with full honours," she angrily told local journalists in late November. "But I don't believe that lying letter."
She will be unable to rest until she sees him again, she said, adding that her son had three daughters.
The last she heard from her son was in the spring, when he "called from Bishkek ... and said he was going to make money in Turkey", she said.
He was a migrant worker twice before and came back both times, she added.
The village has heard rumours that Japarkulov was shot by Syrian soldiers, Bek-Abad resident Oibek Atajanov told Caravanserai.
"Residents of our village received photos of his bullet-riddled body through WhatsApp," he said.
Some young Kyrgyz who go abroad to support their families end up enmeshed in extremist recruiting networks, including those of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), Atajanov said.
That said, the Japarkulovs have not yet begun mourning because they all doubt that Mansur is dead, he said.
Unable to confirm
The State National Security Committee (GKNB) is unable to confirm Japarkulov's death, GKNB spokesman Arstan Kutmanov told Caravanserai.
"There are photos of Mansur's death but they could be faked," he said. "We had a case like this before. Residents of Aksy District [Jalal-Abad Province] received pictures supposedly of a fellow villager's death, but later they found out he was alive."
Bek-Abad, Japarkulov's hometown, has the country's highest concentration of supporters of radicalism, Kutmanov said.
"Even though the government has been carrying out measures to prevent extremism the past two years, outlawed groups are ... trying to convince citizens into going to Syria," he said.
Sixty-eight Bek-Abad residents are on the police watchlist as extremists, including 12 in prison. Another four residents went off to fight in Syria and Iraq, he said.
Refusing to see reality
Of the approximately 600 Kyrgyz known to have gone to Syria, 70 have been killed, Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesman Attokur Omurzakov told Caravanserai.
Kyrgyz security agencies' "continued collaboration with other governments' agencies, including those of Turkey, will help track our citizens who are fighting in Syria", Omurzakov said.
In some cases, Kyrgyz mothers absolutely refuse to believe their sons were killed in Syria, even after irrefutable evidence, Omurzakov said.
"Some women flat out say that until they see their children with their own eyes they will not hold a memorial service," he said.
Naivete plays a role in such denial, he said, noting that some mothers are unaware of their sons' recruitment by extremists online.