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Central Asia investigates who is luring its citizens to Syria
Central Asians are heading for Syria either for financial motives or because of false promises, observers say.
By Asker Sultanov and Shakar Saadi
Authorities and analysts from Central Asian countries are trying to devise ways to keep the region's citizenry from joining the insurgency in Syria.
Recent media reports have pointed to a Central Asian presence in Syria. In late October, for example, the Syrian grand mufti estimated that 190 Tajiks, 360 Turkmens and 250 Kazakhstanis were fighting in Syria.
Kyrgyz security officials figure 30-40 of their countrymen are in Syria.
The outline for determining an effective counter-strategy is pretty straightforward.
"It is important to identify what kinds of tactics the militants are using to recruit fighters, and to know who exactly are doing it," said Vokhid U., who works with the National Security Service (SNB) of Uzbekistan.
While the militants are using tools to recruit Central Asians that are difficult to overcome, the region is committed to determining how to counter the recruiting efforts.
Money talks louder than religion
One misconception is that Central Asians join the militancy in foreign countries because it's all about religion, Vladimir Shkolny, a Kyrgyz scholar of religion, said.
"But religion here serves only as a front," he said, adding that it's really all about the money. The militants have it, and their prospective recruits don't.
"The average daily income here is US $2 to $2.50 (97 to 121.2 KGS). In war zones, you can earn much more than that, much faster, if you're willing to risk your own skin," Shkolny said. "This is a huge incentive for many unemployed and poor Kyrgyz."
Indeed, Talaybek Japarov, deputy director of the Kyrgyz State National Security Committee (GKNB) Anti-Terrorism Centre, said that unofficial data indicate that militants earn about US $1,500 (72,729 KGS) a month, plus financial incentives for specific deeds.
"The militants go there for profit, not for ideology," Kamoljon Kakhkhorov, an Uzbek scholar of the Middle East, agreed. "And they don't just receive money. They are also told that if they, say, destroy some house, then they have the right to take anything from it they want."
To change and prevent this situation, the governments of Central Asian countries need to further develop youth policy and create jobs, he said.
"The youth are desperate; there is no job for them, no opportunities," Kakhkhorov said. "The governments should show them that they are not alone and that somebody cares. Instead of pressuring people, the governments should help."
Numerous organisations recruit
The recruiters represent a number of terrorist groups, officials and analysts say.
"Practically all terrorist organisations are recruiting our men to go to Syria, including al-Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and others," Japarov said.
The Syrian extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) are also recruiting Central Asians, Vokhid U. said, adding that all the groups tend to use false promises to lure men and boys into joining the fight.
"In rare cases, they're bluntly recruited to fight, but they more often say that they are falsely offered work under better conditions," he said. "And there are other cases when recruiters gain control of very young boys who are interested in religion. They brainwash them and trick them into going to war."
While militant organisations are recruiting Central Asians to participate in the armed conflict in Syria, Shkolny expressed a home-grown concern.
"On top of that, Kyrgyz are recruiting Kyrgyz," he said, pointing out that practically a third of all Kyrgyz who have left for theological education in other Muslim countries have become proselytisers for radical Islam in Kyrgyzstan.
To offset such efforts, Vokhid U. said it is essential to identify supporters of known militant organisations to shut them down.
Countering the recruitment
The militants saw an opportunity to redouble recruitment efforts in Central Asia because of some social unrest, too.
For example, the southern oblasts of Kyrgyzstan became a hotbed for militant recruitment after the ethnic riots of 2010, Japarov said, because "many Kyrgyz were put on the wanted list, and recruiters have exploited their inability to go home."
Being aware of the problem is the first step toward solving it, though, and Central Asians are stepping up their efforts to do just that.
"[The GKNB] is constantly working on preventing the recruitment of our citizens, actively carrying out preventive measures and informational sessions explaining about how one shouldn't recklessly leave the country for work, and conversing with parents about the dangers of such trips for their sons," Japarov said. "But it is extremely difficult for law enforcement authorities to monitor the departure of our citizens to Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, since many Central Asians enter these countries [through a third country]."