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ISIS, geopolitics of Iraqi crisis and Central Asian militants: interview 30 июня 2014, 17:06

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) is recruiting Kazakhstanis and other Central Asians amid its expansion in Iraq and the big geopolitical game in the Middle East.
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Political scientist Yerlan Karin. ©Yaroslav Radlovsky Political scientist Yerlan Karin. ©Yaroslav Radlovsky

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) is recruiting Kazakhstanis and other Central Asians amid its expansion in Iraq and the big geopolitical game in the Middle East.

Kazakh political analyst Yerlan Karin has spoken about the problem of the modern terrorism and new trends in the development of radical organizations in an interview with Tengrinews.

After sweeping through the northern city of Mosul, then overraning major areas of five provinces north and west of Baghdad this month, ISIS, known for its ruthless tactics and suicide bombers, has declared an "Islamic Caliphate" extending from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala in Iraq, and claimed leadership of the world's Muslims. In an audio recording distributed online, ISIL declared its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "the caliph" and "leader for Muslims everywhere".

Most of the embassies and international organizations in the area have evacuated their staff and representatives from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, suggesting lack of confidence in that the city can be defended. Active campaigns of ISIS - conquering cities and establishing new laws - are but results of policies aimed at squeezing out different Sunni groups and creating enclaves, Karin said, adding that ISIS was not only a strong military organization, but also a political force.

“As a person studying the problems of terrorism I became convinced a long time ago that any terrorist group is a tool in a geopolitical struggle. One way or the other, any such group is backed by interests of particular states, intelligence agencies and governments. And it is obvious that ISIS did not emerge all by itself. It is also someone's tool. Take the scenario of redividing Iraq and Syria along new boundaries for instance,” Karin said.

Karin also spoke about the political tactics of ISIS. Several months ago, extremist Twitter and Facebook accounts were uploading videos and photos of militants arriving to Iraq and burning their passports. But recently they started uploading photos and videos of militants no longer burning their native passports, but receiving ISIS (not Iraqi) stamps in their passports. This shows that ISIS is focused and efficient not only in military actions, but also in setting up political structures. "It is a very unusual organization. It seems that military advisors are not all it has, there are political advisers involved as well," he said.

One of the passports in the video allegedly belonged to a citizen of Kazakhstan.

Karin affirmed that citizens of Kazakhstan, who fought against government forces in Syria, moved over to the territory of Iraq. The analyst explained this by the proximity of the ongoing conflict to Kazakhstan and Central Asia in general: “All this is very close, especially when considering it not in terms of distances, but in terms of accessibility. For example, Turkey - a visa-free regime, and then to Iraq and Syria from there – they are practically one touch away."

Karin mentioned that there was a new trend in forming military units in Syria, they were becoming ethnic based. Militants from Central Asia were mostly represented by Uzbeks. There were at least two ethnic Uzbek units taking part in military operations.

According to the analyst, such ethnic units may be subsequently used against their native countries. "There have been such cases in Central Asia already: 25 Kyrgyz nationals who returned from combat zones in Syria and attempted acts of terrorism in there home country are now in prison in Kyrgyzstan," the reminded. 

There is some information that suggests that Central Asian natives have even reached leading positions within the ISIS, adding to the worry that the conflict will have far-reaching consequences for the region. According to Karin, radical groups consisting of Central Asian citizens are scarce, but very active and very radical. 

“Many of the militants from Central Asian countries, in particular the citizens of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan fighting in Syria, were recruited or at least transferred by the organization called The Islamic Jihad Union that is based in Waziristan, Pakistan. This group had been there [in Pakistan] for quite a while, carrying out its operations in Afghanistan, when unexpectedly several cases were recorded, when they got engaged in transfers of immigrants from Central Asia to Syria,” Karin said. While governments are trying to solve the problem individually, terrorist and radical groups from different countries are developing interactions and coordinating their actions by providing each other with organizational and logistical assistance, Karin admitted regretfully.

Karin also pointed out that Internet played an important role in recruitment of militants and promoting their ideas. He dispelled the assumptions that recruitment happened only inside Islamic or Arab countries. As an example he spoke about two Kazakhstani citizens, who were recruited by Syrian radical groups but did not travel anywhere near the country. In fact, one of them went to Sweden, the other one to the United States.

Karin also said that militants, who were European citizens, were many. According to the official statistics there were more militants from Europe than from the majority of other countries: 700 from Britain, 400 from France, 300 from Belgium, 200 from Germany. The recent shooting in a Jewish museum in Brussels was instigated by a Belgian citizen who returned from Syria. Karin cited “liberal attitude” and “unrestricted exit and return” among the main problems that facilitate this in Europe.

Karin believes that the conflict in the Middle East would have been solved much faster was it not for the interests of other states:

"There are interests of other forces behind ISIS. Their equipment is very good. Analyzing the videos we see that ISIS are not Pakistani Talibs running around with old Kalashnikov guns. Their equipment is as good as that of regular armies. Their equipage and weapons are brand new.

"This is a typical global confrontation mixed with sly Middle-Eastern intrigues, a very complicated situation in terms of combination of policies of various unions and coalitions. 

“I think that things that are now happening in Iraq serve the interests of global players. But, they [local governments] are starting to realize that eventually it will all turn against them. The story of bin Laden have taught them nothing. Al-Qaeda and bin Laden were a community of people used in the global confrontation. However, after a while, when the confrontation subsided and when the attention shifted to other issues, they were just left to themselves. So, out of control, they turned against their former comrades.

"I always write this in my books: Terrorism is a tool of shadow politics," Karin concluded.

Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina

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