Kyrgyzstan on high alert against returning militants

By Erkin Kamalov


A Kyrgyz border guard checks a car at the Kyrgyz-Uzbekistani border check-point in Kara-Suu May 12. Militants who are returning from Syria to their homeland might cross the border using false documents, warn officials. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

BISHKEK -- The "Islamic State" (IS) is trying to export a new model of terrorism to Central Asian countries specifically adapted to the region's political and cultural realities, say analysts and security officials.

"A new model of extremism is being exported from conflict zones to Central Asia countries -- one that has been technologically and tactically modernised and adapted to the context of the multi-ethnic make-up of its participants," Andrei Novikov, director of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Anti-Terrorist Centre, told RIA Novosti earlier this month.

The group's strategy in the medium term is to expand its presence in northern Afghanistan and gain access to districts near the border with Central Asian states, according to Novikov.

Afghanistan borders Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Because of that plan, the return of militants from war zones like Syria and Iraq again has become a pressing issue, said Novikov.

Arrests expose terrorist plans, 'sleeper cells'

Kyrgyz authorities already have foiled some infiltration attempts, including by groups other than IS.

On October 12, the State National Security Committee (GKNB) identified and thwarted a militant trying to enter Kyrgyzstan, according to the GKNB. During the counter-terror operation, authorities detained a 39-year-old Kyrgyz citizen identified only as K. Kh.

The suspect, a native of Osh Province, allegedly joined the al-Nusra Front (ANF) terrorist group, which has since merged into the Tahrir al-Sham alliance, in Syria in 2013. He fought against Syrian troops before returning home to plot terrorist acts, said the GKNB.

On October 5, the GKNB detained 23-year-old Jalal-Abad native A. A., who allegedly underwent training in a militant camp in Syria in 2012 and fought there.

Two days prior, on October 3, authorities detained 20-year-old K. J. in Chui Province. He trained in sabotage and terrorism in Syria in 2016, according to officials.

"He was recruited by IS proselytisers and returned to Kyrgyzstan to establish an underground movement," GKNB spokesman Ulanbek Jalildinov told Caravanserai. "Officials seized a firearm and other material confirming his terrorist affiliation at his residence."

In yet another case, authorities on September 25 detained 22-year-old M. M., who confessed that he recruited Kyrgyz citizens to travel to war zones while he was in Syria, the GKNB reported.

"Beyond that, M. M. delivered medicine intended for militants' needs, and at the order of militant ringleader Abu Saloh (Sirojiddin Mukhtarov), he returned home in March 2017 to help plan and commit terror attacks," said Jalildinov.

Ringleader Mukhtarov, a native of Osh Province, is said to be still fighting in Syria as an ANF member.

All of the suspects had been sent to their homeland to begin preparations for sabotage and terror attacks, acting as "sleeper agents", he said.

"The international terrorist group members who were trying to plot a terrorist attack before Independence Day (August 31) [are] still fresh in mind," he added, referring to five Kyrgyz men whom authorities confronted over several days in August. Two were killed in a shoot-out with authorities in Chui Province; the other three are in custody.

Public support for fighting extremism

Kyrgyz citizens are becoming more vigilant and have realised the importance of assisting security forces, said Interior Ministry (MVD) employee Bakytbek Kasymbekov.

"Thanks to public alertness and indirect information obtained through mobile apps, we are managing to obtain sources who report these sorts of suspicious individuals to us," he told Caravanserai.

After all, everyone has children, friends and family, and no one wants any of them to become casualties, he said.

"In recent years, frequent prevention work with youth and their parents is helping to fight extremism, which is reducing the level of radicalisation," Kasymbekov said.

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