Even before the recent terrorist attack in Stockholm, during which a Central Asian native drove a truck in a crowd of pedestrians at high speed, other immigrants from the region were suspected of launching two terrorist attacks in Turkey last year, along with the recent one committed in St. Petersburg.
The fact that the man suspected of Stockholm attack, which resulted in the death of four people, came to the EU from Uzbekistan drew the attention of western security operatives to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia that have recently become a source of extremism.
But how natives from CIS countries have so suddenly become a major terrorist threat to the world? The answer is pretty logical, since the rise of terrorism in Central Asia is closely linked to the chaos that Afghanistan has been submerged into in the last couple years.
This trend is aggravated even further by the fact that such states as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan have no special services to speak of, while social conditions in these states leave much to be desired. Additionally, the armed forces that most Central Asian states have are not capable of adequately negating the flow of terrorists in and out of their countries. Therefore, one could hardly expect that any of the above listed states would be able to single-handedly bring down ISIS or track those Central Asian citizens that were fighting on the side of this terrorist organization before returning home.
It should not be forgotten that any criminal environment can be a potential breeding ground for terrorism. Large criminal groups or other marginal social groups that are turning individuals into would-be-terrorists if they are to be approached by radical recruiters. However, at the heart of any criminal activities lies the economic situation that a state has found itself into. Countries with weak economies and high unemployment rates are virtually pushing the lowest strata of the population into getting engaged in offensive activities. That is where extremist recruiters come in, offering both significant financial benefits to those willing to take the risk of becoming a terrorist and the long-time occupation to all sorts of marginals. If there’s no financing, there’s no terrorism.
The low cultural level of the marginals that are usually getting recruited by terrorist groups usually can be easily transformed into the fanatical devotions to the ideas of radicalism, that exists with the sole purpose of reducing the costs of needed to stage a terrorist act.
Today thousands of migrants from CIS countries are leave their homes in a bid to earn a little bit of extra in Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. How many of them are prepared to learn demolition techniques or execute a terrorist attack – is a tough guess to make. It matters not that terrorist groups are pursuing somebody else’s political and financial goals, instead of being engaged in any sort of genuine religious warfare, as long as they pay good.
The German Sueddeutsche Zeitung notes that a great number of terrorist attacks in recent years were committed by Uzbek-born terrorists. The media source is convinced that Uzbekistan is gradually sliding into the chaos of terrorism, while notes that ISIS has recently been recruiting large number of militants from the Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. In total, according to some estimates, up to five thousand citizens of these countries are fighting in the ranks today.
In addition, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) (also known as the Islamic Party of Turkestan), which began its malicious activities back in the 90s and is now considered one of the most active extremist groups in Central Asia. It has recently expanded its area of operations to Tajikistan, serving as a recruiting center for the Al-Qaida, but now its militants swore their allegiance to ISIS. Their stated goal is to create a single Islamist stretching all across the Central Asia.
The same Sueddeutsche Zeitung has recently been citing an unnamed source in the Federal Intelligence Service of Germany that would claim that IMU has a wide network of affiliates and supporters in a number of countries. Extremist from all over the globe have been joining its ranks, in particular, the movement has managed to recruit several German Salafists who were then used to urge their fellow citizens to start an armed struggle against the government.
The terrorist groups in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have decided to make it their goal to introduce the Sharia law across the region, notes the Swedish Aftonbladet. The media source argues that they were initially created as a form of protest against the harsh repressive regimes that were established once those stated countries gained independence from the Soviet Union.
The number of militants from Central Asia that are fighting in the Islamic States was underestimated initially. However, once the fight against this terrorist group in Iraq and Syria moved into an active stage, they began to return to Afghanistan or Turkey and, in some cases, they just go to Europe, notes an analyst of African and Eurasian Affairs for the Jamestown Foundation, Jacob Zenn.
That is why the anti-terror efforts must be a struggle that countries embark on together. Russia has recently been showing its readiness to join hands with its neighbors for the common good of all the states, which has motivated some European politicians to rethink the stance they’ve been taking against Moscow.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”