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Soldiers of the Caliphate: myth or reality?
Outlawed group unlikely to find support in Kazakhstan, observers say
By Gulmira Isakova
ALMATY – Ever since a group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) made itself known in Kazakhstan earlier this year, the country has looked at extremism as a growing threat, although opinions differ as to whether the group is real and how strong it is.
Soldiers of the Caliphate has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist acts, including two explosions in Atyrau October 31. The group has posted several messages on the internet describing a recently enacted law on religion as “wrong” and threatening to use violence.
Group has no standing in Kazakhstan
A group operating outside Kazakhstan and whose members might even not be Kazakhstani citizens has no right to make any claims against Kazakhstan, Ruslan Primbetov, a scholar of religion, said.
“The group has no charter and no distinct ideology, and it isn’t clear how many members it has – probably, a dozen or two at best,” he said.
Nevertheless, Astana has identified the Islamic group as a terrorist organisation. Soldiers of the Caliphate’s operation on Kazakhstani soil is banned, Nurdaulet Suindikov of the General Prosecutor’s Office announced November 30.
“In accordance with the Atyrau city court ruling of November 25, this organisation was identified as terrorist and its activities in this country were prohibited,” he said. “Anybody affiliated with Soldiers of the Caliphate will be prosecuted for involvement in terrorist activity.”
Kenzhebulat Beknazarov, spokesman for Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB), refrained from commenting on the matter at this time.
If this group has taken responsibility for terrorist acts, this means it exists, KNB Col. (ret.) Arat Narmanbetov said.
“(The events linked to Soldiers of the Caliphate) are so extraordinary that they qualify as terrorist acts, and that’s why there’s so much uproar,” he said. “People are concerned that more such acts may follow.”
Soldiers of Caliphate is obscure
The group is still little known, Almaty Helsinki Committee head Ninel Fokina said. “Lack of accurate information always breeds idle talk,” she observed. “The agencies that are supposed to know (about the group) don’t seem to have any information – otherwise they’d make it public. When there’s no information available, people start gossiping and the media ... start multiplying rumours.”
While acknowledging a lack of information about the group, Ongar kazhi Omirbek, spokesman for the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan, said Soldiers of the Caliphate does more harm than good to his organisation.
“We don’t need this kind of disservice, since it’s our internal political affair,” he said. “The people themselves will decide whether they agree with the (recent) Law on Religion and Religious Associations ... (Soldiers of the Caliphate) shouldn’t be threatening us. I think they are demonstrating their ignorance and rudeness, and we don’t need such a disservice from them.”
The statement made by Soldiers of the Caliphate came as the first direct threat to security in Kazakhstan, a country where 70% of the population are Muslims and which previously had seen no terrorist acts, Omirbek added. Mullah Ibrokhim kori Dosypayev of Almaty first learned about Soldiers of the Caliphate from news reports this autumn.
“My neighbours and acquaintances have been asking me what kind of group it is, but neither my colleagues nor I have ever heard anything about it,” he said. “I think it’s just a handful of impostors who failed to succeed in life. I don’t expect them to find any support in this country.”
Meanwhile, Primbetov said, a video statement reportedly recorded in the Atyrau remand prison appeared on YouTube December 4, showing repentant former supporters of Soldiers of the Caliphate urging the group to lay down arms.
The Atyrau Penal Department, however, has not confirmed the recording was made in the remand prison under its control. The department is investigating whether the video was shot in Atyrau, department spokeswoman Bakhytgul Marazbayeva said.