https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2017/03/13/feature-01
| Terrorism

Kyrgyz youth continue to fall prey to online extremist recruiters

By Erkin Kamalov

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Kyrgyz youth attend an anti-extremism outreach event in Jalal-Abad Province February 24. [Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan]

UZGEN, Kyrgyzstan -- Extremist recruiters, even after battlefield defeats of various militant groups in the Mideast and the exodus of disenchanted Kyrgyz militants, are still using social media to brainwash potential recruits, say Kyrgyz specialists.

One district that has suffered from the Syrian war is Uzgen in Osh Province.

"Three residents of Uzgen District have left for Syria since the start of the year," State National Security Committee (GKNB) spokesman Ulanbek Jalildinov said at a March 1 outreach meeting in Uzgen city, according to Turmush.kg.

Since the beginning of the war "42 people have left the [Uzgen] district to fight there and six have died", he added.

Local residents told him about the continued influence and recruiting efforts of extremist groups, he told Caravanserai.

"Virtually all Muslims have begun to understand that someone else's war serves no purpose," Jalildinov told Caravanserai. "The inhabitants of Uzgen District are seeking out meetings with clergy and theologians on their own, in order to learn the truth about Islam."

That concern is leading devout Muslims to strive to shield their loved ones and friends from the harmful influence of radicalism and from the deception that serves as the main method for luring poorly educated Muslims, he added.

Duping novices

Other observers are speaking out about the dangers of online propaganda.

"Radical internet materials are largely propped up by [misused] hadiths from the Koran," said Esen Usubaliyev, director of the Bishkek-based think tank Prudent Solutions, in Bishkek at a February 22 international forum on security, according to AKIpress.org.

Recruiters on social networks like Facebook and Twitter dupe online novices with talk of threats to Muslims who live in "lands controlled by infidels", he said in his speech.

The recruiters hope to frighten or agitate followers into moving to "ISIL ['Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant']-controlled territory, said Usubaliyev.

One admitted victim of the online propaganda is Bakhrom Kh., 22, of Uzgen, who described his plight to local police after returning to Kyrgyzstan.

ISIL illusions shattered

"Your religious brothers need your help!" was the message from an internet imam who seized Bakhrom's attention, Bakhrom told police.

"He was already sending hadiths and surahs from the Koran ... and adding photos and short videos to back up his claim that peaceful Muslims were being killed in Syria," he said.

In December 2015 he travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border, from where militant handlers transported him to a combat zone.

His illusions were shattered when he saw the militants murdering those who did not obey them.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," he recalled. "The internet imam had duped me ... They [militants] were the killers themselves."

Bakhrom refused to take up arms, citing an injury to his right hand, which provoked the militants to beat him badly, he said.

"I was assigned to work in the kitchen," he said. "Luckily, I knew how to cook ... I looked for the right moment to escape for a long time."

His chance came last October when he and several others were sent under guard to obtain groceries in Jarabulus. They came under fire from Syrian troops, he said, adding that his minders were killed. He and two of his companions fled to Turkey.

"My way home took almost two months," he told police, citing a hitchhiking odyssey that took him through Russia and Kazakhstan. He finally came home last November.

Bakhrom is awaiting trial.

Taking preventive action

Concerned officials like Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Temir Jumakadyrov, who spoke at the same forum in Bishkek February 22 as did Usunbaliyev, are calling for measures to prevent such online radicalisation.

Youth are particularly vulnerable to radicalisation because they acutely feel "all political processes and are a mirror of all changes and transformations", he said at the forum, according to AKIpress.org.

"The cult of power and of a strong personality -- and ignorance of the law -- represent factors that influence the appearance of new extremist groups," he said.

Jumakadyrov urged society, local governments and other government agencies to form civil society, inter-agency and state partnerships for conducting anti-extremism preventive activity.

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