How Real Is the ISIS Threat for Central Asia?

The trials and the guilty verdicts against the activists of oppositionist movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan – 2 have recently been overlapped by the Russian media publications that the Islamic State (ISIS), the terrorist group banned in Russia and several other countries, is planning to build a caliphate in Central Asia and is going to use the already existing dormant units – “Jamaats”.

We will not comment on the sources of this information, its accuracy, and the possibility that, in this way, the Kremlin has decided to increase the tension in the region in order to convince or force the neighboring states to ask Russia for the military and political support.

On the other hand, the UN is also aware of such risks. Head of the CIS Anti-Terrorism Center Andrey Novikov spoke about it at the Issyk-Kul – Antiterror – 2018 training. Here is a quote from his speech. “We have taken into account the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate’s assessment that, due to the oversupply of the weapons delivered from the politically unstable zones, the “weapons for drugs” trading principle is being formed in the region - a development intensified by the insufficient border protection”.

In a related move, as an expert opinion, we would like to cite the case of Kazakhstan politician Vladimir Kozlov, the former leader of the unregistered Alga People’s Party banned in 2012 for “extremism” by the Kazakhstan court’s decision. In reality, the party was banned for the support of the Zhanaozen oil workers who went on strike that, on December 16, 2011, ended with their shootout. Then, followed the trials and the guilty verdicts against the strike participants.

Soon after his early release from the penal colony in August 2017, Vladimir Kozlov told, or rather retold, the story he had personally heard from one of the convicts.

The name of this convict is Kamil Abdukakharovich Abdulin. He has been sentenced to prison for participating in the Syrian combat operations. He is an Almaty-born ethnic Uyghur. He comes from a family of teachers. Kamil is Muslim but does not uphold the extremist views. He is well-educated, has lived and worked in Sweden for some time. It was in this country that he had learned so many new facts about Syria and its rebel movement that decided to go and fight against the Assad regime.

Kamil says that the European online-resources where religious people can interact with each other post many videos on how the situation in Syria has been developing since the 1960s when Assad’s clan came to power. They show that this regime has been keeping the country under such a strong and tight control that one can talk about the existence of the slave-owning system in Syria. For example, if an owner of several villages decided to relocate some families from one village to another, all he needed to do was to give the order and the families would be relocated.

As a result, during all the long years the regime has been in power, the Syrians have accumulated a rather high level of discontent. The situation escalated to the point that, once (in March, 2011 –, a group of teenagers wrote on a wall that Assad had to resign and the country was living under dictatorship. The teenagers were arrested and beaten at the police station. When their parents came to collect them, they beat them, too. When the elders came to the law-enforcers, they were sent away. And when too many people gathered at the police station, the authorities ordered to use the machine-gun against them. Some people were killed, the rest ran away but came back again armed with the antiquated firelocks and destroyed the police station. There was no going back. This is how, according to Kamil, the rebel movement was born, and the civil war had started.

Kamil recalls that the online-videos on how the military torture the civilians are regularly placed on certain websites that are rather popular in Europe. And people trust these sources. It was after watching these videos that Kamil decided to go and fight the Assad dictatorship. And he went to Syria.

When he arrived, there was still no ISIS extremist group in the country, only the rebels and Assad with his allies. Kamil says he fought against Assad’s troops. And when the ISIS guerillas entered Syria taking advantage of the situation (it happened in 2013 –, then, according to Kamil, all hell broke loose. One could travel fifty kilometers across a zone controlled by the rebels, then the ISIS and then by somebody else. A part of Syria was divided into squares, and you could get shot anywhere since, even inside the rebel movement, not everyone was on amicable terms with one another.

Finally, Kamil decided to come back. “I no longer understood what I was fighting for”, he says. When he arrived in Kazakhstan, he was arrested and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment for fighting in Syria. But Kamil told his story not because he wanted to make excuses for himself. He said he saw a lot there – the way the ISIS guerillas fight, the way the recruiter agents operate. And he reached his own conclusions.

Conclusion one. The ISIS has a powerful analytical service that gathers information around the world on the countries’ conditions, draws conclusions and gives recommendations. As a rule, the ISIS enters the states where the protest moods against the local dictatorships or the authoritarian forms of governance are very high. Note that, at first, the ISIS guerillas always come as the fighters of the authoritarianism, of the repressions against the believers. When they establish a foothold, they begin building a Shariah-based caliphate on the conquered territory.

Conclusion two. The ISIS members are jihad-motivated. When they go into battle, they intend to kill and die since, according to their beliefs, the more of the “unfaithful” they kill, the better place awaits them in heaven. Apart from that, they believe that, by doing so, they are helping their relatives: the ISIS people think that the family members of their choice will also end up in heaven. This “direct flight” to paradise has been promised to them by their spiritual leaders. For deeply religious people, this can be a very strong motivation, therefore, the ISIS guerillas do not value life per se, to them, it is only a means to achieve heaven. And, of course, everyone’s goal is to reach this supposedly eternal blissfulness.

Kamil Abdulin says that he has seen the lists of about a thousand people willing to commit terror attacks by blowing themselves up. He also says that the guerillas even try to accomplish additional “feats” to get to the top of the list. And when the guerillas go into battle against the Assad army “live” (so to speak), they win easily because they are “motivated to die” while Assad’s soldiers are not, they have a home, a family, they want to come back, to live on, not to “die on the battlefield”, retells Vladimir Kozlov Kamil’s story.

Conclusion three. The ISIS is actively establishing itself in Afghanistan and, if this dynamic is to continue, it will soon be at the Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan border. In this case, there will be a threat of the ISIS penetrating these Central Asian countries. The protest moods are very high there, there are people susceptible to the Islamic teachings that, among other things, preach the ISIS ideology. In other words, Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan will have the forces that will greet the guerillas and support the ISIS movement in Central Asia. Next will be Kazakhstan where the situation is getting worse every day and, therefore, the protest moods are rising.

Of course, Kamil’s experience retold by Vladimir Kozlov is only one person’s opinion. This person, however, is not just an observer or a bystander, he is a participant of the civil war in Syria and has personally been exposed to the ISIS members and operations.

In our opinion, considering all that has been said, Akorda’s urge to suppress any kind of political initiative in the country instead of channeling it, their apparent desire to intimidate the Kazakhstanis that disagree with the authorities’ policies and practices are highly reminiscent of the events happening in the USSR in the 1930-1950s. Then they also put people in prison not so much for committing real crimes as for being suspected of disloyalty. We all know how this story ended – at a crucial juncture, the people simply refused to give their support to the state. And then, it collapsed.


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