ASHGABAT -- Turkmen members of the "Islamic State" (IS) have repeatedly tried to return to Turkmenistan via Afghanistan after the rout of their so-called "caliphate" in the Middle East, according to an officer with the nation's State Border Service (GPS).
"In the past year and a half, there have been more than 10 such attempts in the jurisdiction of the Tagtabazar, Kerki and Serkhetabat GPS detachments, but they were thwarted by the joint actions of the border troops and special forces from the National Security and Interior ministries," said the officer on the condition of anonymity.
"The violators were arrested. Several were forced to return from where they had come from," he said.
"You can understand them [the IS militants] -- they're in hot water, and they're getting beaten everywhere and by everyone. Now some of them are drawn home, to peaceful Turkmenistan, but even at home no one is waiting for them, and no one needs them," a State Migration Service (GMS) officer who requested anonymity said in an interview.
"In places where radicals appear, you need to expect turmoil, bloodshed and feuding. We won't allow it," he added.
Incidents on the border
Turkmen authorities do not disclose to the public the situation on the borders with Afghanistan and Iran, but stories of IS members' attempted return to Turkmenistan regularly surface.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Turkmen service for example, citing sources in the Defence Ministry, reported in July 2018 that "about 50" militants, all Turkmen citizens, attempted to force their way into Turkmenistan in separate incidents over an undisclosed time period.
Turkmen forces captured about 30 of them, while the rest escaped, according to RFE/RL.
Turkmenistan's government has neither confirmed nor denied the report.
Still, the authorities have stepped up security along the country's southern borders, ordering a partial mobilisation of its reservists and conducting snap military exercises on its border zone.
Local analysts find credible the reports that IS members have entered Turkmenistan from Afghanistan, said Kasymguly, a lawyer for the Turkmen military prosecutor's office who withheld his last name.
Immediately after the alarming incidents, the commander of border troops at the time was demoted to colonel "for unsatisfactory performance of his official duties and for slackened monitoring of the service under his authority", Kasymguly said.