Security services in Kyrgyzstan say they have neutralized another international terrorist cell, although little to no firm information has been provided.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) said in a perfunctory statement on March 29 that the seven-person group was engaged in recruitment for combat activities in war zones, apparently a reference to Syria and Iraq.
The statement also states that the cell was priming for terrorist acts within Kyrgyzstan.
There is more that is not known, however. No names have been provided, for the individuals or the group to which they allegedly belonged. Even the location of the arrest is left vague and given only as “in the territory of one of the republic’s regions.”
This degree of nebulousness has become the trademark of the GKNB and will do little to dispel suspicions that its periodic terror scares are work of officials seeking to keep the public on edge.
In the past few months, the authorities have bestowed the anti-terror operation label on shootouts that appeared more like clashes with regular organized crime groups.
In the most sensational such instance, on July 16, special forces stormed a dwelling in the center of the capital, Bishkek, and unleashed a torrent of firepower so overwhelming that several buildings burned to the ground. Despite flames consuming entire houses, authorities managed to recover an intact Islamic State group flag as indisputable evidence of the cell’s terrorist affiliation. All people identified as belonging to the alleged militant group were better known as petty hoodlums than for their supposed religious convictions. Awards were promptly handed out to participants in the raid.
Things a turn for the weirder some days later, when security officials announced the arrest of a former member of parliament who served as a deputy in former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s Ak Zhol party in connection with the eliminated cell. The former deputy was only ever identified by the initials K.M.K.
To this day, there has been no public trial for K.M.K. and even the person’s whereabouts is a mystery, although it should be assumed it is the holding cells of the GKNB.
Authorities maintain the background music of a terrorist threat by regularly holding outreach events to remind the public of the dangers around them.
By coincidence, also on March 29, the GKNB organized an “educational-prophylactic event” in the city of Balykchy to remind residents of the dangers of religious extremism and terrorism. Participants involved local religious leaders, youth groups and would-be experts.
“Special attention was devoted to cases of citizens of Kyrgyzstan, particularly young people, going to war zones and joining international terrorist organizations,” GKNB said in a statement.
The statement identified key problems as being the “lack of a specific system of moral and spiritual education” and the proliferation of “legal and religious illiteracy.”
They’re certainly ones to talk. Statement about earlier efforts to capture or kill would-be terrorists have been grossly undermined by their apparent confusion between Sunni and Shia militant groups.
Official methodology for identifying new terrorist threats is also perplexing, to say the least. The Osh regional prosecutor’s office on March 17 ruled to classify Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad as an extremist group.
“The above-named group includes not only Syrians, but also people originating from the Kyrgyz Republic, who are actively involved in recruitment,” the prosecutor said in a statement.
On one hand, it is odd that it took the Kyrgyz authorities this long. Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad is a very early precursor to the Islamic State group. And yet the group has no known record of activity in Kyrgyzstan, which makes the sudden designation somewhat hard to explain.
The individuals that the authorities choose to endow with the expert status may be part of the problem. Perhaps the most famous, self-appointed authority on Islamic radicalism in Kyrgyzstan is Kadyr Malikov. In November, Malikov was slashed with a blade in central Bishkek by assailants that he later asserted with unshakeable confidence had been dispatched by the Islamic State — presumably in an act to match the scale and drama of the Paris attacks that same month.
Despite the patent preposterousness of Malikov’s accusations, the authorities continue to clutch him to their bosom and lend support to his utterly unsourced claims about radical Islamist activity. That cozy relationship reached new heights on March 23, when Interior Minister Melis Turganbayev wrapped up an official chat with Malikov by giving the pundit a pistol for his self-protection.