Tajikistan has once again reportedly blocked access to various social media websites in response to the appearance of a second video featuring Gulmurod Halimov, the now-infamous (now former) commander of the country’s special police (OMON) who defected to ISIS in May.
According to Edward Lemon, who researches Tajik militants in Iraq and Syria, in the video Halimov is “lounging between two Tajik militants, and sporting a bushier beard than in his first video.” Ranting in Tajik, rather than Russian, Halimov threatens to behead his older brother Saidmurod and also makes threats against Hoji Mirzo, a government-sanctioned cleric who has spoken against ISIS.
Halimov also reportedly attempts to dispel rumors that he was sent to Syria by the government in order to kill Nusrat Nazarov, a well-known Tajik militant who Lemon notes “is something of a spokesman for Tajiks fighting with the Islamic State.” Nusrat Nazarov, who is also called Abu Kholidi Kulobi, and claimed to be from the village of Charmagon in Tajikistan’s Kulob district, is rumored to be dead–killed in fighting near Raqqa, Syria. Nazarov has appeared in his own ISIS propaganda videos as recently as March.
In March, Nazarov made the claim that 2,000 Tajiks have joined him in Syria to fight with ISIS and that their next video could be filmed “from the mountains of Tavildara in central Tajikistan, or the Tajik capital, Dushanbe — or even from the Kremlin.” In a January video Nazarov outlined the breadth of ISIS’ ambitions, he said that “Even the [Native Americans] will have to live under Shari’a. We will take them tubeteikas [Central Asian caps, worn in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan], we will build mosques for them, and we will live with them according to the laws of Allah.”
In early June, Asia-Plus reported that Nazarov had been killed, citing posts on Russian social media site Odnoklassniki.
Tajikistan has seemingly become the front line for ISIS in Central Asia. Many regional watchers are skeptical (disclosure: I am one of them) about the functional ability of extremists to return to Central Asia and generate the sort of extreme Islamist insurgency that governments fear. As I have pointed out in the past, it is incredibly difficult to determine just how many Tajiks are fighting with ISIS. Government figures are offered without much supporting evidence and researcher estimates, such as those from Lemon, are decidedly lower. Moreover, it is still unclear how Halimov was radicalized and many of the Tajiks who have been identified with ISIS were recruited from within Russia, not Tajikistan.