Why are Central Asian youth attracted to extremist groups?
Currently, due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, there is a concern that the Western supporters of the Islamic State group (ISIS) will again send young migrant workers from Central Asian countries to this conflict - like what happened in Syria and Iraq. The establishment of the Turan Battalion consists of the Turkic-speaking people of Central Asia in Ukraine to fight against Russia, as well as the extensive media propaganda support of Idas Sadeghov, a former citizen of Kazakhstan who declared "Jihad" against Russia, has sounded the alarm. Therefore, it seems that the Central Asian governments' plans to deal with Islam and Muslims must be fundamentally changed, so that the grounds for promoting any kind of extremist and takfiri thoughts among the young generation of these countries are eliminated.
The increase in terrorist acts with the participation of Tajik nationals shows the continued tendency of the youth of the region to terrorist groups; some of these terrorist acts are as follow: the incidents at the Shah Chirag Shrine in Iran; the alleged attack by Tajiks on the office of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) in Kabul; the killing of 13 Russian soldiers in a training camp in Belgorode by two Tajiks; the beginning of the trial of Abu Dawud (Parviz Abdurahmanov), a Tajik citizen who is accused of organizing terrorist attacks in Russia, Sweden and Germany, and has attracted and recruited more than 200 young men to the ranks of the ISIS terrorist group, and the Prosecutor General of Tajikistan has requested a life sentence for him; The activities of the Ansarullah group in Afghanistan, which consists of Tajiks; the terrorist attack by a Kyrgyz citizen on the Saint Petersburg subway a few years ago; the terrorist act of several Uzbek citizens in Sweden: and the establishment of a battalion consists of Central Asian Turks in Ukraine to confront the Russian army, under the command of a Kyrgyz citizen.
In order to investigate the causes and reasons for the tendency of Central Asian youth to join terrorist and Takfiri groups, the Central Asia workgroup of the Institute for East Strategic Studies (IEES) has interviewed with a number of experts in the region, including Dr. Kader Malekov, director of the Religion, Politics and Law Research Center in Kyrgyzstan; Abdulmalik Sarmanov, political expert and journalist in Kazakhstan; Bakhtiar Irgashev, political expert from Uzbekistan; Karimjan Yarov, activist for the rights of Central Asina migrant workers in Russia; and Abdulmalek Kadyrov, a political analyst in Tajikistan.
IEES: Why Central Asian youth tend to join terrorist groups? Kader Malekov: For several years, we have been investigating the main reasons for the tendency of Kyrgyzstan's youth to join extremist and takfiri groups. The results of this research show that despite more than 30 years passed since the independence of Kyrgyzstan, favorable conditions for people's lives in this country have not yet been provided. The occurrence of three coups, the change of more than 20 prime ministers and governments, severe economic crises, the absence of the idea of national and Islamic growth and development, financial corruption and widespread bribery in the administrative system, poverty and unemployment, and most importantly, the disappointment with the secular system which has not been able to meet the expectations of the society during this period, are among the main factors of the youth joining terrorist and Takfiri groups. Also, the relatively free atmosphere of religious and political activities in Kyrgyzstan on the one hand, and the unpreparedness of clerics and religious scholars to answer the questions of the young generation on the other hand, caused the missionaries of Takfiri and terrorist groups to take advantage of the existing vacuum and attract young people to their ranks and send them to Syria and Iraq for war. Today, the ISIS group is apparently defeated, but inside Kyrgyzstan there are dormant cores of this Takfiri organization. The establishment of a battalion consists of Central Asian Turks in Ukraine to fight with the Russian army under the command of Almaz Kudabek Oglu, a Kyrgyz citizen expelled from Russia, is one of these cases. Kudabek Oglu who was a barber for American soldiers at the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan and at one of the US military centers in Afghanistan, now has declared "Jihad" against Russia and is recruiting ISIS members. These events show that the supporters of the takfir movement are trying to declare themselves in a new form.
Abdulmalik Sarmanov: If in Kyrgyzstan issues such as poverty and unemployment, migration to Russia, and legal problems of citizens of this country are among the factors that lead young people to extremist and takfiri groups, the situation is different in Kazakhstan. The first groups that propagated their ideas in our country were the Salafis, who gradually gained influence in the government structures and attracted important figures. A clear example of this activity of Salafis is the recruitment of General Kairat Satybaldy, the nephew of Nursultan Nazarbayev the first president of Kazakhstan, and the former deputy head of the State Committee for National Security of the country. Salafi circles related to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, call him Sheikh Kairat. He practically managed the activities of all Salafi groups in Kazakhstan, a large number of them went to Syria with their families. They were not even from the poor sections of the society. Finally, following the bloody riots of January 2022, Sheikh Kairat was arrested in Dubai on charges of embezzlement, and at the request of the Kazakhstan government was extradited to his country and sentenced to 6 years in prison. This is despite the fact that his main charge should have been related to the management of Salafi groups, not financial issues. Another important point is that the employees and officials of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan were in full communication and interaction with these Salafi people (to show that the Salafis are completely under the control of the security authorities and do not pose a threat to the national security of the country.) On the other hand, the Salafis were told that if the security and law enforcement authorities arrest them, they will be severely criticized by international human rights organizations. (But, after the beginning of the Syria crisis, the security authorities of Kazakhstan sent them to Syria due to the feeling of danger from this group.) Therefore, their departure to Turkey and later to Syria, by flying from Kyrgyzstan to Istanbul to participate in ISIS "Jihad" was possible only with the agreement of the security authorities of the two countries. Even today, when the participation of a number of members of the Salafi and ISIS groups in the riots of January 2022 in Kazakhstan has been confirmed and these people have been arrested, we witnessed that the pressure of international human rights organizations on the Kazakh government intensified. This ultimately led to the president's decree granting amnesty to more than a thousand rioters, including members of extremist and takfiri movements. Although it is usually said that most of the Tajik, Uzbek or Kyrgyz people who were working as migrant workers in Russia went to Syria and Iraq under the influence of the ideas of the missionaries of the Takfiri group of ISIS, but in Kazakhstan, people who wanted to participate in the ISIS so- called "Jihad", was also helped to leave their country in order to get rid of the trouble of these people's presence inside the country.
Abdulmalik Kadyrov: In this case, the condition of Tajikistan is very similar to Kyrgyzstan. But the most important reason for the growing migration of young Tajiks to work and live in Russia, is the lack of employment and sufficient wages in the country. Also, the lack of a favorable living and social environment and the use of violence in the armed forces of Tajikistan, cause thousands of young men who are eligible for military service, to flee this country every year. Another factor for the tendency of Tajik youth to join extremist and terrorist groups in Russia, is the closed and limited atmosphere of Islamic and religious education in Tajikistan. Because in this country it is forbidden for young people under 18 and women, to enter mosques. Teaching the rules of Islam and the Holy Quran is also prohibited. Except for an Islamic college in Dushanbe, there is no school or center where young people can learn about Islam. No programs about Islam are broadcasted on state radio and television. Due to the migration of most men to Russia for work, the task of raising children in Tajikistan is the responsibility of mothers. And considering the fact that mothers also have to work, they do not have time to teach Islam to their children. In this situation, young Tajik immigrant workers in Russia are influenced by the ideas of the missionaries of terrorist and Takfiri groups such as ISIS, who use advanced propaganda tools, and so the impression is created for these people that this is the real Islam. That is, the main factors for the tendency of Tajik youth to join extremist groups are firstly due to problems inside Tajikistan, and then caused by immigration.
Bakhtiar Irgashev: Of course, the situation in Uzbekistan has improved in recent years, and the tendency of youth to join terrorist and Takfiri groups has decreased significantly. The main reason for this is that the new government of Uzbekistan has abolished most of the religious restrictions that had been imposed by the previous regime of the country. At present, the ban on the sound of Azan (the call to prayer) from the loudspeakers of the mosques, the restriction on the teachings of Islam and the Holy Quran, and the holding of prayers and other religious ceremonies have all been removed. Even the previous restrictions on women's hijab have been removed. Also, the government offered amnesty to its Islamic opponents who were outside Uzbekistan, and offered them to return to the country. In the past, one of the excuses of the opposition groups of the Uzbek government to fight against it was the issue of restrictions on worship and religious ceremonies; but now this situation has changed. Like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, one of the ways of Uzbek youth to join terrorist and Takfiri groups is their presence as migrant workers in Russia. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was already the main group of Islamic opponents of the country's government, which after pledging allegiance to the ISIS group, it established an organization in Syria called Kataib al-Imam al-Bukhari (KIB). But after the defeat of ISIS, this group is no longer active. However, the remnants of this group are probably present in Afghanistan and Pakistan's Waziristan. Meanwhile, due to the close relations between the Uzbek government and the Taliban, it does not seem that these people will take action against the interests of the Tashkent government.
IESS: What is the reason for young migrant workers from Central Asia to join terrorist organizations in Russia? Karimjan Yarov: We have been investigating this issue among Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia for several years. We found that the main motivation of Uzbek and Kyrgyz migrant workers to join terrorist and extremist groups during 2014 to 2018, was Deviant beliefs propagated by the religious missionaries of these groups, and also obtaining financial benefits. However, the main reason for the success of ISIS missionaries in brainwashing Tajik migrant workers in Russia, is the lack of Islamic awareness and knowledge in these people. In fact, the limitations of teaching Islamic sciences in Tajikistan have caused these people to be easily deceived by terrorist and extremist groups. Because their only source of Islamic information is social networks, which penetrate the minds of the young generation very easily due to their attractive contents. Another factor is the lack of a proper organized program for the integration of migrant workers from these three Central Asian countries into the Russian society. Complex administrative obstacles to obtain a work and residence permit in Russia cause the missionaries of extremist and terrorist groups to take advantage of these conditions. On the other hand, in spite of Russia's efforts to implement cultural programs for migrant workers and provide grounds for their integration into society, pro-Western news media try to create a negative image of foreign migrant workers in the society. Unfortunately, there are also employers who hire migrant workers without signing a contract, in order to avoid paying taxes, so that they do not pay enough wages for these people. A number of migrant workers make contracts with employers with the help of brokers. But these contracts are verbal and have no legal aspect, so the immigration police may detain and deport these people at any moment due to not having an official work permit. Therefore, in Russia, there is actually a dual policy towards migrant workers from Central Asia, which leads to the tendency of these people to join extremist and terrorist groups.
IESS: Why do the ideas of extremist and Takfiri groups penetrate the minds of the Central Asian youth in such a way that they are ready to commit suicide attacks? Kader Malekov: The programs of ISIS missionaries are very attractive for the young generation who are looking for reality; because in Central Asia, Islamic scholars have limited all their activities in mosques to moral and jurisprudential issues. Due to their strong dependence on the central governments, these scholars cannot leave these frameworks and respond to the needs and questions of the young generation. Hence, young people who are disappointed with the scholars, tend towards social networks, which paves the way for them to join extremist and Takfiri groups. They instill this in the ignorant youth that if they blow themselves up in the military centers where the enemies of Islam are present, they will definitely go to the heaven.
Abdulmalik Sarmanov: The same situation exists in Kazakhstan. The clerics and employees of the official administration of Muslim affairs in Kazakhstan (who consider themselves to be partners of the government in the field of fighting the ideas and propaganda of extremist and takfiri organizations) do not know how to deal with the propaganda methods of these organizations, and cannot compete with missionaries of Takfiri ideas on social networks. The way Imams of mosques (religious preachers) in Kazakhstan preach is not at all comparable to the propaganda of extremist and takfiri organizations, and the differences between these two groups are clearly visible in terms of the use of new information technologies. Promoting takfiri ideas prepares the youth to carry out suicide operations, and they think that with this action they will be saved from this world full of hardships and cruelty of enemies and will enter paradise.
Bakhtiar Irgashev: It is clear that the attractive advertising methods of extremist and Takfiri missionaries who use the Internet to promote their ideas among the young generation is a very important factor in this field. Because the way of lecturing and explaining issues with the most advanced technical tools of the day, penetrates strongly in the minds of the young generation, so that a person is ready to commit a suicide attack under the pretext of destroying several people who are presented as enemies to him, and he thinks that he will be rewarded in the afterlife for doing such an operation.
"Abdulmalik Kadyrov": In Tajikistan, the text of all the speeches and preaches of mosque Imams are prepared and regulated by the Committee onReligious Affairs, Regulation of NationalTraditions, CelebrationsandRituals(CRA) of the country. Due to the special conditions of this country, the majority of these contents are curses of foreign opponents, who are referred to by titles such as "enemies", "traitors to the nation" and " traitors to the country." That is, without the permission of this committee, mosque Imams have no right to talk about important issues. This dependence causes the missionaries of the extremist and Takfiri groups to see the field prepared for themselves and to penetrate the thoughts of the young generation, who do not have a proper idea and knowledge of Islam until the age of 18. In this situation, the young people who are influenced by the inductions of these groups, no longer have the opportunity to think and compare right and wrong, and prepare to commit suicide attacks. The departure of nearly 2000 Tajiks to fight with the Syrian and Iraqi armies between 2014 and 2018 (some of whom were with their families), the killing of a large number of them, and the displacement of many women and children in the camps, are among the results of the tendency of these people to the ISIS group.
IESS: How do Central Asian governments deal with people who tend to join extremist and Takfiri groups, and how effective has it been in preventing people from joining these organizations? Kader Malekov: In Kyrgyzstan, the main solution is to arrest and imprison these people. However, investigations show that the imprisoned members of extremist and takfiri groups, strongly promote their thoughts and ideas in prisons, and influence a significant number of prisoners. They are in contact with the cores of these groups outside the prison, and receive instructions on how to recruit more prisoners. But human rights organizations, which are mainly affiliated with the West, hire lawyers to defend the imprisoned members of extremist and takfiri groups. The Kyrgyz government is under severe pressure from these organizations, and has repeatedly pardoned people associated with terrorist groups. Even recently, the issue of amnesty for a number of prisoners affiliated with the ISIS group, who were arrested in 2016 on the charge of carrying out terrorist operations, has been raised. These measures will increase the number of members of extremist and Takfiri groups. The current methods to prevent people from joining these groups are not effective, and comprehensive programs should be developed and implemented in public schools to teach proper Islam, away from violence and takfir.
"Abdulmalik Sarmanov": In Kazakhstan, the program of separating moderate and radical Islamic groups has been implemented for years, which of course has had opposite results. This is because the security and law enforcement institutions, under the pretext of staying away from the criticism of the West regarding the violation of the rights of Muslims and especially the extremist groups, inculcated that the members of these organizations should be tolerated so that they give up and return to the right path. But these measures did not work, and the participation of some of these people in the bloody riots of January 2022 showed that this strategy was wrong. Therefore, there is a need to review the policies of the Kazakhstan government in the field of Islamic education system, prepare Imams of mosques based on today needs and improve the ability of them to work in social networks, and respond to the needs of the young generation in this field.
Bakhtiar Irgashev: The current plans to deal with extremist and takfiri groups, which rely mostly on arresting and imprisoning members of these organizations in Uzbekistan, no longer work. Considering the presence of between 5 to 7 million Uzbek nationals in Russia, as migrant workers, it is important to convey correct teachings of Islam to these people before they go to work in Russia. Also, in cooperation with the Office of Muslim of Uzbekistan and the Russian Council of Muftis, a program for training these people and keeping them away from the propaganda of extremist and Takfiri groups in different regions of Russia should be developed and implemented.
Abdulmalik Kadyrov: In Tajikistan, the dominant strategy to fight against extremist groups, is to arrest and imprison the members of these organizations, which still continues. Of course, due to the extradition of a large number of Tajik nationals from Russia on the charge of membership in extremist groups and issuing heavy sentences against them, propaganda activity against the Tajik government has increased with the claim that it violates Muslims rights. Until Islamic education is not started in the public schools of this country and also the restrictions imposed on the presence of young people in mosques and the ban on teaching the Quran and Islamic sciences are not lifted, it is wrong to hope for an improvement in the situation; Because the security and law enforcement authorities only think about arresting and imprisoning the members of these organizations, which has been proven to be ineffective.
Karimjan Yarov: Currently, it is clear that the strategy of arresting and imprisoning members of extremist groups, which exists in most of the Central Asian countries, is not effective. Also, due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, there is a concern that the Western supporters of ISIS will again send young migrant workers from Central Asian countries to this conflict- like what happened in Syria and Iraq. The establishment of the Turan Battalion with the participation of the Turkic-speaking peoples of Central Asia in Ukraine to fight against the Russian army under the command of Almaz Kudabek Oglu (a Kyrgyz citizen expelled from Russia), as well as the extensive media propaganda support of Aidas Sadekov, a former citizen of Kazakhstan who has declared "Jihad" against Russia, has sounded the alarm. Therefore, it seems that the Central Asian governments' plans to deal with Islam and Muslims must be fundamentally changed, so that the grounds for promoting any kind of extremist and takfiri ideas and thoughts among the young generation of these countries are eliminated.