Ankara – The recent terrorist attacks which witnessed the involvement of members from Central Asia, known as the Turkic World, have raised many questions on the expansion of terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda in these regions and the impact of this expansion on the Middle East.
Terrorists who attacked Istanbul Atatürk Airport on June 28 and Reina Nightclub in Istanbul within the first hours of 2017 were ISIS members from Central Asia and Caucasus. Experts in combating terrorism see that the frequent terrorist attacks in Turkey show that the organization has launched a war against the country after Ankara’s battles in Syria and its participation in the Euphrates Shield operation, which was launched on August 24.
Apparently, ISIS has actually started to recruit its cells by targeting Central Asians and people originally from the Caucasus but living in Turkey and speaking the Turkish language. The number of these members cannot be determined, but the majority of them have been used in suicide bombings.
The proliferation of terrorist organizations, mainly ISIS, has been a major concern among Central Asian governments, because of the real threat they pose to stability and security. These governments have also found difficulties in coping with these threats as a result of the huge economic and security crises they already suffer from.
The Guardian Newspaper revealed that around 4,000 migrants from Central Asia traveled to Syria to join fighting groups after they were secretly recruited by Chechen terrorists.
While the United States announced it concerns from ISIS’ proliferation in Islamic countries which were part of the Soviet Union, Russia also feared extremists breaching through its southern borders, which compelled major countries to toughen their security measures.
In an unprecedented step, the U.S. has sent hundreds of armors, troop carriers, and huge amounts of weapons to the Republic of Uzbekistan while Russia provided Tajikistan- the only non-Turkic republic in the Soviet Central Asia- with developed arms (worth USD1.3 billion), to help it combat armed groups. From its part, China also showed concerns from the expansion of ISIS in the region known as East Turkestan.
It is worth noting that militants from four Islamic Republics in Caucasus- Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino – have pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video shared on the internet in both Arabic and Russian languages.
Officials from Russia have said that thousands of Russians, mostly from Caucasus, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS in its battles. An official noted that those members amount to around 2,000, and they have returned through Turkey as tourists who lost their papers.
On another hand, Tajikistan issued an international warrant to arrest the leader of its “private forces” Gulmorad Halimov’s for joining ISIS and accused him of treason. Halimov, who was trained in the United States, appeared in a video threatening U.S. and Russia.
Experts see that the western media’s neglect for Central Asia distracts the world from links between ISIS and Turkic peoples in the old Soviet areas – this neglect has encouraged ISIS on benefiting from recruiting members from these origins to launch attacks in Turkey.
Lack of Reforms
Experts see that banning Islamic parties and organizations, like Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has aimed at establishing a Caliphate in Central Asia forced many youths to join radical groups that work secretly. Experts add that the Central Asian Governments’ failure in achieving political and economic reforms to alleviate pressures on Islamic Parties led to the outbreak of small groups inspired by many thoughts from ISIS. These groups are assigned to implement terrorist attacks abroad like the attacks on Istanbul.
Fiona Hill, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution advised the U.S. Congress on the importance of rational and deep analysis for the religious extremist speech – she considered that long-term commitment, cautious evaluation, and coordination of urgent plans are the only solutions to face challenges in Central Asia. She finally said that as long as the region’s regime neglects the suffering and struggles of these people, more members will join ISIS to commit terrorist attacks abroad.
A Turkish academic notes that the Turkish support for people escaping oppression from Central Asian regimes has played a major role in the increasing attacks. Some also saw that the flow of refugees from/to Syria has been a reason behind the tension between Moscow and Ankara before the recent agreements they reached, which also played a major role behind these attacks.