“According to open sources, two years ago, [the number of radicalised] fighters was the largest in Tajikistan – 600 people, [followed by] 500 in Uzbekistan, 350 in Turkmenistan, 250 in Kazakhstan and around 100 in Kyrgyzstan,” the director of Central Asia at the Institute for Strategic Studies, Anna Gussarova, tells bne IntelliNews.
Official figures are potentially skewed for most Central Asian countries, however, given that Uzbekistan’s government does not even disclose official figures. In Kazakhstan, for example, “400 people were charged with extremism and terrorism in 2015”, according to Gussarova, though only three of the cases have been tied to Syria, she notes.
Most extremism in Central Asia does not express itself as IS or any other major terrorist movement activity. There are no large organised terrorist groups in the region, with the exception of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Instead, the post-Soviet governments usually find themselves dealing with disparate cells of radicals.
The rise of radical Islam in the region has most often been blamed on the regional economic crisis, as well as general poor socio-economic conditions for lower segments of society. However, Gussarova believes this explanation is too simple.
“The problem runs much deeper and… cannot be calculated in economic terms,” Gussarova says, noting such factors as the number of internet users in each of the five countries, as the internet has grown to be one of the primary recruitment tools, as well as “traditionalist [cultural] value systems”, which may clash with those of the secular world, among multitudes of other causes. Gussarova believes the recruitment process is “deeply personal” for each recruit; as such, attempts to track any trends specific to the region may fall flat.
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