Earlier this week Asia-Plus reported that Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of Tajikistan’s OMON, hasn’t been seen since May 1 and that he may have left the country to join ISIS in Syria. Halimov has been commander of OMON since 2012 and reportedly received a number of awards for his service. OMON is a branch of special police — a ‘Special Purpose Mobile Unit’ — and is part of the Interior Ministry in Tajikistan.
Asia-Plus said that Halimov had last been seen with a group of men at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow and quoted an unnamed “friend” as saying he recently “became [a] devotee of ISIL and began to spread ISIL ideas among his friends.”
RFE/RL’s coverage of the disappearance is much more skeptical. Based on interviews conducted by Mumin Ahmadi, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Tajik service, with Halimov’s family, Farangis Najibullah writes that:
The family says such reports — some of which claim Halimov had been gathering material from social media about IS’s ideology and its military capabilities — “don’t make any sense.”
Halimov, married and the father of eight, was apparently in the middle of several family business projects — a chicken farm and a fitness center. His brother Nazir, interviewed by RFE/RL, said his brother had long-term plans. His family said that Halimov was last seen on April 23, when he gave his wife money and said he was going on a business trip.
Officials from the Interior Ministry have refused to comment. Asia-Plus says that Deputy Interior Minister Ikrom Umarzoda responded to a question about Halimov’s location by saying, “I know nothing about it.”
Interfax reported today that one of Halimov’s colleagues, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the commander “simply got obsessed with this Islamic State earlier this year. He kept reading online articles about their ideology, started disputes with his colleagues and tried to persuade them that the truth is on their [Islamic State] side.”
Another anonymous source in the Tajik special services, according to Interfax, “confirmed the suggestion that Halimov had traveled to Syria to join Islamic State there,” and said that “he was not alone. He gathered about a dozen single-minded persons.”
Data on how many Tajiks are fighting with ISIS is notoriously difficult to nail down. The Tajik Interior Ministry finally released an estimate, but it should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. At least one Tajik, Farruh Sharifov from the Sughd region, who left to fight with ISIS has returned to the country. Last week, he publicly repented on the same day 19 others from the same region were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for extremist activity, a charge that is broadly interpreted in Central Asia, often incorporating anyone who participates in an unregistered religious group.
So has Gulmurod Halimov run off to Syria? It is unsatisfying, but true, to say that no one seems to really know. The only non-anonymous sources talking are his family, who are admittedly biased by their relationship. Nonetheless, they strongly deny that Halimov is in Syria. It’s worth watching and waiting for him to show up, though he’ll have a lot of explaining to do when he does.