ALMATY -- As extremist recruiters adopt new approaches to attract members, Kazakh analysts say officials should step up efforts to prevent vulnerable youth from falling prey to their tactics.
Almaty city's Directorate of Religious Affairs, which regularly monitors websites to identify cases of extremist propaganda, is one institution seeking to prevent Kazakhs from becoming susceptible to new recruitment methods.
Since the beginning of this year, it has organised explanatory lectures aimed at communicating the dangers of propaganda spread by militant outfits.
The agency said more than 5,000 people have attended the lectures and it found that many of them did not even know that they had subscribed to the social media pages of extremist groups, state-owned website Zakon.kz reported November 25.
Propaganda remains an effective tool of extremists in targeting new recruits.
For example, a resident of Turkistan Province who was suspected of involvement with Islamic State" (IS) tried to sell the house and leave -- along with his wife and four children -- for Syria, Astana TV reported on November 21.
National Security Committee (KNB) officials found out that the man had praised militants, shared terrorist propaganda with his loved ones and urged them to travel to Syria.
Law enforcement officials found incriminating materials during a search at his home. The suspect was arrested, partially admitted guilt and faces 12 years in prison if convicted.
A new strategy
Extremist recruiters are changing their tactics and are using so-called softm power methods to attract members, said Tulegen Taldybayev, deputy director of the Ansar think-tank in Aktobe.
"Previously, they openly declared their extreme views and entered into public debate, calling everyone who is not with them takfirs (non-believers). Now, their strategy has changed. They nod their heads, saying 'Yes, we adhere to the Hanafi school of thought,' but they themselves are changing the area of their propaganda," he said.
Until recently, these recruiters for the most part waited near mosques to find their potential victims. Now, they have are going into business, Taldybayev said.
They are opening small shops such as cell phone stores, hiring workers and then preaching their ideas to them, he said.
Extremist recruiters prefer to work with those who do not have a religious education, considering them easier to brainwash, said Taldybayev.
"They are doing this specifically to spread their ideology among them," he said.
For extremism prevention, it is very important to "know the threat profile", said Taldybayev.
While IS mostly has been defeated in Syria, no one knows what to expect in Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow, he said.
It is unclear how geopolitical events will develop and how extremists will decide to interpret them for their gain, he added.
"In the face of uncertainty, creating 100% effective preventive measures is difficult," Taldybayev said.
Promoting national security
Theologians and psychologists have a large role to play in helping combat the recruitment efforts of extremists, say analysts.
Still, their effectiveness depends not only on their education but also on their power of persuasion, said Kakimzhan Bishmanov, director of the Almaty-based NGO Centre for the Study of Extremism and Terrorism in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
"A specialist conducting preventive measures or deradicalisation must understand that he or she is not only fulfilling a professional duty. He or she has a more global mission: promoting national security, and caring for the present and future of an entire people," he said.
Only psychologists working in the religious sphere should be involved in aiding victims of extremists or in preventing the spread of extremism, he said, adding that this work cannot be entrusted to those working only with addictions such as drugs and alcoholism.
"In addition, these psychologists working in the religious domain really need a regular platform where they can share their experiences and share practices used in rehabilitating such people," he said.
"For example, a psychologist in Aktobe applies a tactic that produces a good result. If he tells his colleagues about it, then perhaps this will help a specialist in Akmola Province working with someone profoundly brainwashed by a radical ideology," said Bishmanov.
Widespread revulsion toward extremism
In the past three to four years, the flow of Kazakh citizens leaving to fight with extremists in Syria has nearly dried up because of successful work to counter terrorism and extremism in the country, he said.
"The shame of what was happening was that one Muslim killed another and that each of them shouted 'Allah Akbar,'" he added.
"So, not only did our citizens stop leaving for there," said Bishmanov. "It's quite the opposite -- they even fled from there to return to their homeland, and the militants had to catch them and arrange public reprisals so that the rest would not follow their example."