OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz militants returning from Syria are looking for new opportunities and are joining criminal gangs, Kyrgyz State National Security Committee (GKNB) spokesman Arstan Kutmanov told Caravanserai.
"[The militants] want to gain support from organised crime groups [OCGs] by drawing them into their 'swamp' of extremism," said Kutmanov, adding that certain criminals are often attracted to radical groups.
"This kind of union ... poses a double threat to the country's security," warned Kutmanov.
This year so far, authorities have registered several instances of illegal transport of large quantities of weapons, ammunition and even explosives, he said.
Police track extremists, common criminals
Crimes that represent this disquieting combination of extremist and common-criminal motives have attracted police attention in recent months.
On February 11 in Osh, the police arrested four individuals suspected of kidnapping and extortion, according to a February 15 report by Kant.kg.
One of the suspects "belongs to an extremist movement and has a criminal record", the Interior Ministry (MVD) press office told Caravanserai.
The suspects tried to extort a large sum from a Batken Province resident, said the MVD.
"They demanded 2.1 million KGS [$30,500]" from the man, the MVD added, saying that police nabbed the suspects when they tried to drive away the man's car -- which he had offered rather than the 2.1 million KGS. The police had been aware of the suspects' extortionist activities for about three months, according to the MVD.
In another case earlier in 2017, authorities arrested a 27-year-old man from Toguz-Toro Province, Jalal-Abad Province. He is suspected of trafficking in explosives.
"At the end of January, we arrested K. A. [the suspect]," Kutmanov told Caravanserai, adding that K. A. possessed 42kg of ammonium nitrate, 50 blasting cap detonators and six detonator fuses.
Authorities determined that K. A. belongs to an OCG that sympathises with extremist movements and that supports the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), said Kutmanov.
Monitoring ex-cons and ex-militants
Speaking at a February 3 meeting of the MVD governing board, Interior Minister Ulan Israilov described operations against extremism and international terrorism as a high priority for police this year.
Israilov called for police to "identify and eliminate any sources of financing for OCGs by identifying those citizens involved in extremist and terrorist organisations, and to carry out crucial operational and investigative measures", according to For.kg.
Elders and clerics are trying to help by monitoring ex-cons who visit houses of worship. "We, along with youth committees and block committees, keep track of the relatives of those who went to Syria or came back from there," Jalal-Abad resident Ulugbek Kakhorov told Caravanserai.
Worries about Fergana Valley
The concerns about an alliance of common criminals and extremists come as a Bishkek theologian warns of potential unrest in the Fergana Valley.
Kadyr Malikov recently cited an alleged attempt by ISIL to destabilise the region shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
"This information has not been confirmed yet, but we are getting signals," he said in Bishkek January 17, according to Kyrtag.kg. "According to our information, ISIL intends to destabilise Uzbekistan via southern Kyrgyzstan ... The main [ISIL] target is Uzbekistan, but we face potential destabilisation of southern [Kyrgyzstan]."
Malikov suggested outreach by authorities to the public, especially to youth, and stronger security measures.