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By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK – Kyrgyz authorities are looking for signs that the terrorist Haqqani Network has penetrated Kyrgyzstan as there have been reports that the terrorists are connected to local drug and crime gangs.
In addition to media reports, law enforcement has received information about the network’s appearance in Kyrgyzstan, Emil Zheenbekov, head of the Interior Ministry (MVD) Directorate for Counteracting Extremism, told Central Asia Online.
“So far we have no accurate data,” he acknowledged. “Experts tell us that the Haqqani Network uses methods somewhat different from those of the religious-extremist movements that have become widespread in Kyrgyzstan in the past few years.”
For example, the network co-operates with members of the underworld, he said. But the MVD is working with the state penal service to prevent such activities, Zheenbekov said.
“The (network) is extremely dangerous,” he said. “It uses not only criminal elements but also the drug trade. This fusion of crime and religious extremism is much more dangerous than ... extremist recruiting among the peaceful population.”
How Haqqani Network draws support
To recruit supporters, the Haqqani Network – a 15,000-member group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan – relies on psychological manipulation based on the concept of takfir, or being non-religious, Zheenbekov said.
“Haqqani Network members accuse Muslims who don’t support its activities of apostasy, and ... criminals who are willing to make cash contributions are encouraged ... to commit various crimes,” he said.
Proponents of Haqqani ideology call for crimes against supposed apostates, he said. “They say, ‘You can cheat them, rob them, kill them, because they are apostates. You can produce drugs and ship them to countries where infidels live.’ In that way, they are giving drug barons and other criminals a licence to commit crimes.”
Yuri Shcheglovin, a scholar at the Moscow-based Middle East Institute, said the Haqqani Network has established contacts with crime bosses in Kyrgyzstan, and he warned of prospective terrorist acts.
The network ingratiated itself with underworld leaders by sheltering them in Pakistan during Kyrgyz manhunts, Kyrgyz media have reported. After pressure eased, the criminals returned to Kyrgyzstan and continued their activities but now with a religious-extremist motivation.
Why group causes concern
He cites Pashtun commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been blamed for introducing suicide bombings as a tactic in Afghanistan and is the mastermind behind many attacks against coalition forces there, as reason for concern.
Haqqani was appointed commander of the armed forces of the Taliban in 2001, after years of fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
With Haqqani’s background, “It is perfectly justifiable to expect such dramatic ... terrorist acts in Kyrgyzstan,” Shcheglovin said.
Toktaim Uletaliyeva, leader of the Zhashasyn Kyrgyzstan Party, agreed that some concern is warranted. “We cannot deny the links between organised crime and Islamic radical organisations,” Uletaliyeva said. “I am now extremely worried because suddenly many people are turning up for Friday prayers, including criminals. Look how many people are going to mosques these days.”
The underworld includes many young men ages 18-25 (who would be fit for combat), she said.
“At this age, young people are very impressionable. ... They are frequently unable to distinguish traditional Islam from radicalism, so it is easy for the extremists to recruit them into their ranks, “she said. “The link between organised crime and extremist organisations has been quite apparent since 2010.”
The June 2010 ethnic riots in Osh are “a clear example of such operations,” she said.
Since Batken, when the regular army repelled terrorists coming from Afghanistan in 1999-2000, virtually all terrorist acts “have had a certain international shading,” Uletaliyeva said. “But depending on the situation, only the percentage (of foreigners) in this or that group changed.”
Countering the Haqqani Network’s influence
Although some evidence would indicate that the Haqqani Network has infiltrated Kyrgyzstan, it’s premature to speak of the beginning of widespread network activity in the country, Kanybek Mamataliyev, who works for the State Commission on Religious Affairs, told Central Asia Online in an interview.
“I personally do not have reliable information that the Haqqani Network is operating in Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “It is possible that such reports appeared after the head of the Haqqani Network declared that he intends to step up his activities in Central Asia.”
Still, law enforcement and other relevant organisations should prepare for anything, he said.
“When the religious extremist party Hizb ut-Tahrir had only just begun its activities, we paid no attention,” he recalled. “Now we are seeing the results. Hizb ut-Tahrir is now quite active.”