Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, trained by both Russian and American special forces to head up the elite OMON police force of Tajikistan, has defected to the Islamic State.
He disappeared in April after he “told his wife he was going on a business trip,” but he appeared on Wednesday in an ISIS video, vowing to bring jihad and “slaughter” to the caliphate’s adversaries.
It’s not clear where the video was recorded, although the BBC theorizes it might have been shot at a Syrian camp. Khalimov, sporting a black turban and cradling a sniper rifle, is flanked by several other Islamic State fighters.
“Listen, you dogs, the president and ministers, if only you knew how many boys, our brothers are here, waiting and yearning to return to Tajikistan to re-establish sharia law there,” Khalimov snarled in Russian at his own country’s government in the video, accusing them of becoming “the slaves of infidels.”
“We are coming to you with slaughter, inshallah, we are coming to you with slaughter,” he promised, using the Islamic phrase for “as God wills.” Jihad Watch notes, as few mainstream media outlets appear willing to do, that Khalimov is paraphrasing Mohammed’s address to his enemies, the Quraysh, as recorded in Islamic texts.
His threat to the United States was an original composition, however. “Listen, you American pigs, I’ve been three times to America, and I saw how you train fighters to kill Muslims,” Khalimov said, brandishing his rifle. “God willing, I will come with this weapon to your cities, your homes, and we will kill you.”
The UK Telegraph notes Khalimov is considered an expert marksman, “and at the end of the 12-minute video he shows off his skills by shooting a tomato.”
Khalimov’s defection will put a disturbing amount of top-shelf Russian and American military training at the disposal of ISIS, along with useful intelligence gathered during the former security chief’s years of working with NATO. It is a troubling sign of the Islamic State’s expanding reach through Afghanistan into neighboring Central Asian states like Tajikistan.
It also hands an ugly public-realtions win to ISIS, as Central Asia analyst Alexander Knyazev told Reuters. “I think Islamist propaganda will now exploit Khalimov’s example in full,” he warned, voicing particular concerns about Islamist instability in Tajikistan’s neighbor Kyrgyzstan.
The Telegraph relates estimates that some 4,000 men from Central Asia have joined the jihad, up to 2,000 of them from Tajikistan. There are up to a million Tajik nationals living and working in Russia, making the possibility of widespread radicalization a major security headache there.
The New York Times quotes Aleksei V. Malashenko of the Carnegie Center in Moscow saying of Khalimov’s defection, “I am afraid that he may open a path for people to follow him.”
The Times notes that “poverty is often cited as a factor in the radicalization of Islamic State recruits, but Mr. Khalimov’s case pointed instead to a different driver: a repressed but growing religiosity among Tajiks of all classes, including the elite.” Experts are cited warning of “substantial support for imposing sharia, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, and for the idea of a caliphate.”