The targets of a special forces raid in Bishkek were ISIS members planning attacks on the Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan and on a celebration in the center of Bishkek marking the end of Ramadan, Kyrgyzstani security officials announced.
"The underground terrorist group was planning terror acts at a mass gathering for Orozo Ait (Eid) on July 17, and also on the territory of the air base of the Russian Ministry of Defense located in the city of Kant," Kyrgyzstan's state security service GKNB said in a statement.
The raid, in which six alleged terrorists were killed and another seven arrested, occasioned a lot of skepticism among Kyrgyzstanis, both for the fact that it took place in a heavily populated neighborhood and that the government provided no evidence that the people it targeted were in fact terrorists. ISIS is a convenient bugaboo for post-Soviet governments, though there is little evidence that the group has any designs on the region, let alone any current presence.
And the supposed targeting of the Russian base hardly adds credibility to the authorities' version of events. Russia established the base in 2003, its first new foreign military base since the fall of the Soviet Union. It had been more or less merely a geopolitical placeholder with no apparent function, but in recent years Russia has renovated it, increased the number of aircraft deployed there, and announced plans to make it the Central Asian hub of the planned joint air forces of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
But it's not clear why, of all the possible targets in Kyrgyzstan, ISIS would choose the Russian air base. It's more clear, however, how this fits into a Kremlin-approved narrative, which sees ISIS as a tool in the hands of American geopolitics. And U.S.-Kyrgyzstan relations are experiencing a rocky period now, with the U.S. State Department giving an award to a human rights activist whom Bishkek sees as a criminal guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and violence in the Osh pogroms of 2010.
So is this really ISIS's first entrance into Central Asia? Or is that a pretext for some other motive behind this raid?