The nation of Kyrgyzstan has escalated its efforts in fighting radical Islam with the arrest of Rashot Kamalov, a popular Imam who law enforcement say has allegedly been attempting to convince Kyrgyz youth to join the jihad in Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State.
Kyrgyzstan is a Eurasian country locked between China and Uzbekistan. Along its Chinese border is the Uyghur stronghold of Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has increasingly ramped up efforts to combat radical Islamists and prevent jihadist attacks in its capital, Urumqi. In attempting to limit the ability of radical Islamists to recruit from the Chinese population in Xinjiang, the government has banned public religion, Islamic garb, and public observations of the holiday Ramadan in the province.
On the other side of the border from Xinjiang, Kyrgyz officials assert that Kamalov, known as a fiery speaker against Western influences in Asian society, had begun to preach the virtues of joining the Islamic State. The Guardian reports that an Interior Ministry spokesman told the press that Kamalov had “not just appealed for the creation of a caliphate but has also been telling believers about the war in Syria and making extremist statements.”
In addition to encouraging subjects to join the Islamic State, officials claim Kamalov had ties to a group much more closely linked to the region: Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group most active in Asia and Oceania. According to its website, Hizb-ut-Tahrir describes itself as “a political party whose ideology is Islam. Its objective is to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing an Islamic State that executes the systems of Islam and carries its call to the world.”
Should Kamalov’s affiliation to Hizb-ut-Tahrir be proven, he will be the latest in a string of individuals arrested in the nation for their ties to the group, according to a report from Radio Free Europe. Other countries have also increased efforts against the group– most notably Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently revealed a proposal to establish jihad-specific anti-terror laws in the wake of the radical Islamist attack on Martin Place in Sydney. In response, Hibz-ut-Tahrir announced an “emergency” press conference to “provide important context to these announcements by exposing international efforts to silence legitimate Islamic political activism under the guise of countering ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism.”
Kyrgyzstan appears significantly more concerned about an Islamic State presence taking hold within its borders, however. The nation also announced this week that it would actively seek to prosecute any citizens that choose to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State terrorist group. Kyrgyz law prohibits any citizen from fighting as a mercenary in a foreign conflict; though jihadists are not paid in a traditional way by the terrorist group, officials said they would use that law to prosecute any returning terrorists.
Kyrgyz officials also noted that Islamic State recruiters were especially active online. “Even the most remote areas have the Internet. Young people are recruited mainly through web-based resources,” said one official, noting that promotional videos were, in their estimation, the most effective tool yet in the hands of the terrorist group.