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Kyrgyzstan worried about spread of jihadism on internet
Authorities work more actively to keep online messages from reaching potential recruits
By Ulan Nazarov
BISHKEK – The increasing spread of jihadist messages on the internet directed at Kyrgyzstan has alarmed officials, who are determined to stop it, partly by blocking websites and removing comments and links from other sites.
“We have several organisations on our list – al-Qaeda, the Islamic Jihad Alliance, the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), and others,” emphasised Talai Akbayev, head of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (MVD) 10th Main Directorate. “We are attentively monitoring their activities on the World Wide Web. Together with other relevant state agencies, we are trying to minimise their influence on Kyrgyz internet users.”
Most extremist websites targeting Kyrgyzstan are registered abroad, making them difficult targets, Akbayev said, but the MVD can block those sites’ ability to reach Kyrgyzstan.
Since April, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) has decided to step up monitoring of various internet resources, said GKNB Chairman Shamil Atakhanov, who in May addressed parliament.
“The Kyrgyz special services are seriously concerned about the rapid growth of various internet materials of an openly extremist, radical and xenophobic nature,” he said. “Therefore, a special computer programme has been developed jointly with ... a private company, to be used for monitoring internet content.”
“Keeping track of the activities of extremist sites and the sites of radically inclined religious organisations on the Web is the direct responsibility of our directorate,” Akbayev said. “All data on such virtual resources go to a special centre of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation in Moscow in accordance with agreements signed by Kyrgyzstan, and are also sent to the appropriate state agencies in Kyrgyzstan.”
“Based on observations during the past year, such terrorist groups as the IMU, HT, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have taken more and more to using internet propaganda,” said security analyst Igor Prigozhin. “These people even tried to use the anniversary of (the June 2010) ethnic clashes by posting comments appealing for hostility or jihadism.”
Extremists leave messages in forums and comments on popular websites and social media with links to militant videos and sites, he said.
“The clearest and first example of the use of the ideas of ‘virtual jihadism’ in Kyrgyzstan was that of Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army),” said independent religious scholar Ikbol Mirsaitov. “It operated under the influence of the ideas of Said Buryatsky (killed by Russian forces in 2010), whose internet sermons enjoyed great popularity.”
“Similar internet resources are accessible in Kyrgyzstan too, but you need considerable knowledge of Arabic and Turkish to understand them,” added Mirsaitov. Buryatsky “preached in Russian, widening the reach of his sermons,” he added.
IT specialists, though, doubt the effectiveness of state initiatives to the block sites.
“There are now plenty of resources on the Web to help someone access blocked sites,” WestTech programmer Aibek Damirov said. “You can change your IP (internet protocol) address on entering such sites. Other measures are needed to stop this.”
Authorities plan prevention too, Akbayev said.
Conversations with youth are proving quite effective, Prigozhin said. They take place mainly in the south, with police and local officials participating. Public service TV and radio broadcasts might become part of the effort.
Meanwhile, MVD spokesman Rakhmatillo Akhmedov said there is a direct tie between jihadist internet messages and a rise in extremist crime. The number of such crimes has grown more than 20% this year compared to last year.