Staunton, November 3 – Now that ISIS has lost control of most of the territory in the Middle East it once held, its fighters are in many cases returning to their homelands. Those going back to Central Asia are in many cases, experts say, choosing to move on into Russia in the guide of gastarbeiters and continue their struggle for a khalifate there.
That is the judgment of two Russian experts with whom Artur Priymak of Nezavisimaya gazeta spoke concerning the appearance of a shadowy new group known as Khorasan on the Tajik-Afghanistan border (ng.ru/ng_religii/2017-11-01/9_431_halifat.html). (For details on that group, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/10/new-post-isis-islamist-militant-group.html.)
Andrey Grozin, the editor of the Countries of the CIS journal and a specialist on Central Asia, says that the return of jihadists to Central Asia has become so massive that it is no longer just the province of experts but is being openly discussed by intelligence and security officials across the region.
He suggests that many of those returning to Central Asia don’t stay there long but instead move on to Russia as gastarbeiters. The reason is simple: “Migrants from Central Aisa working in Russia are a favorable ground for terrorist groups.” That is where they were first recruited, and that is where they feel themselves at home.
“A significant portion of the jihadists from Central Asia who were fighting in Syria and Iraq are people who came ‘to jihad’ from Russia or through Russia. They were recruited not in their homeland but as it were during their work in Russia,” a country that is “extremely suitable” for such activities especially among Central Asians who come for work but can’t find it.
Those people drop below the radar screen of the regular diaspora groups that work with the state and are easy pickings for radical recruiters, Grozin says. At the same time, however, some Central Asian gastarbeiters who do have jobs nonetheless follow the call to join the jihad as well.
Aleksey Grishin, head of the Religion and Society Center and a specialist on ethnic groups, says that this pattern was set in train in the 1990s when the Central Asian countries expelled extremists and most of those who had been forced out settled in Russia. They became the recruiters for jihad among the next wave of migrants.
“Happily,” Grishin continues, “as a result of the decline in the ruble exchange rate, the number of migrants [in Russia] has declined almost 50 percent;” but the radicals are better organized than they were and are successfully reaching a larger share of this smaller group of Central Asians.
In Central Asia, radicalism is restricted because of the tight traditional organization of societies there. The elders typically know more about who is becoming a radical than the police do. But in Russia “radical elements in the migrant milieu feel themselves quite at home.” There isn’t the same degree of social supervision, and Russian security is not as tight as it might be.
But Grishin adds that there is one important limiting factor on the rise of jihadism among Central Asian gastarbeiters – their ethnic backgrounds. “The Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks bring with them to Russia their historical conflicts and contradictions. There isn’t unity even within one national diaspora.”
The jihadists say that all Muslims are one and that appeals to some, Grishin continues; but very quickly national feuds break out again, limiting the success of the jihadis’ organizational efforts.