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Expert: Kyrgyzstan is full of “sleeper cells” of Islamists

Toktogul Kakchekeyev. Photo: vb.kg

As the presidential election in Kyrgyzstan is drawing nigh, more and more people are being detained on suspicion of plotting or being privy to terrorist attacks, in an interview to EADaily military and security expert Toktogul Kakchekeyev has shared his views of the situation in Kyrgyzstan and the challenges that country is facing for the moment.

Is the risk of terrorist attacks actually high in Kyrgyzstan now that it is preparing for a presidential election? Who are those detained people?

Several people have been detained over the last month. Four ISIL fighters were killed just 40 km far from Bishkek. Two more people were detained in Tokmok, in the east of the country. They were planning to effect one or several explosions during the elections. There are lots of the so-called sleeper cells in Kyrgyzstan. Until now, those people have been unseen. Now we can see lots of religious centers sprouting like mushrooms after the summer rain. They are sponsored by Saudis and Qataris. In the parliament, they have even built separate mosques for male and female deputies. They are trying to convince people that the modern culture is degrading, foul, European, Christian, and that they must reject it. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Qatar care for our economy. All they want is to build as many mosques as possible. As far as I know, we already have as many as 3,000 mosques against just 40 mosques in the Soviet times. We also have lots of madrasahs, which are sponsored by foreigners and are managed by specialists from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

What is a mosque doing in the Kyrgyz parliament? Kyrgyzstan is a secular state under its constitution, isn’t it?

It has been there for three years already. At first, our religious deputies prayed in their offices. Then new Speaker Sooronbay Jeenbekov suggested giving them a couple of rooms. Then it became a kind of a brand – if you didn’t go there to pray, you were not regarded as a true Muslim. So, prayers became a norm in the parliament. Not very far from Bishkek we have a village that has been fully Islamized. The villagers don’t listen to the radio, don’t watch TV. Today, it has become on-trend to buy alcohol and to pour it into the ditch.

Recently, our former Mufti expressed support for one of the presidential hopefuls just because he was a faithful Muslim. Religious centers are actively engaged in propaganda. While we are looking for some politically motivated Islam somewhere abroad, it is already here by our side. No surprise that President Almazbek Atambayev and former President Askar Akayev are worried – they care for the future of our country.

I am not saying that the threat level is already orange but nobody is surprised any more when he hears reports about somebody detained or killed. We are beginning to get used to the existence of extremists in our country. This is not a threat to our national security but this is gradually expanding into all spheres of our life. More and more Kyrgyzs are showing hatred of Russians. Recently, one of our deputies burned an Israeli flag. We see more and more people propagating religious traditions and the idea that Kyrgyzstan must be an Islamic state. The government is not reacting to them. It reacts only to instances of extremism. But if they don’t do anything now, those people may well get a majority in the parliament during the next elections.

Who are those people? Where are they from?

Everything started in the 1990s, when our people began sending their sons to higher schools in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Those youths came back and now are propagating things like Muslim duty, Ummah, etc. As soon as the war in Syria comes to an end, the extremists that are fighting there will go to other explosive places, like the Caucasus, the South Caucasus, Volga region, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. And I can’t say that we are on the watch.

Some experts say that the Kyrgyz authorities are just trying to scare people before the election so as to avoid protest actions. Is this true? Or the threat is real, isn’t it?

The threat is real. During the past two revolutions, over 3,000 guns have been lost.

From where?

From the armories of the police, KGB and the army. Those arms were captured. Almost 1/3 have been taken back – some people gave them back on their own will. But most of those arms are somewhere in the country. So, we can’t be sure that nothing will happen. Just one sparkle and we may face a fire. There are lots of war dogs around, who may cause that sparkle. They have goals and means to achieve them. And we also have lots of people who will be ready to help them just to satisfy their own petty interests. This is not a fiction, this is a real scenario.

Who is creating sleeper cells in Kyrgyzstan and why in a country that has never been Islamic? The Kyrgyzs are usually called “bad Muslims” as Islam is a relatively new religion for them. Do you mean that some 10 years are enough for a non-religious nation to become religious?

The Kyrgyzs are mostly Soviet-type people. Russia has always supported us and, all of a sudden, we see a group of Kyrgyzs saying that they hate Russia. What is this? This is even worse than religious deviations. Religion has always been with us – in rites – but in a restrained form. But no sooner had the first graduate of a Pakistani madrasah come back, lots of Kyrgyz youths rushed to Islamic universities to study Wahhabism, Salafism and other aggressive doctrines. One of our mullahs sent his son to Pakistan. When he came back, he told his father: “What you are doing is distortion of Islam. We must fight. If you refuse to join us, we will kill you.” What is this? Our researchers are now engaged in revising our history. They no longer want to remember the Soviet past. Some emissaries keep visiting our country with a view to instruct our people and to channelize their thoughts. This all is like seeds dropped on fertile soil. Those seeds give rise to sleeper cells, which grow into “administrative religious units.” We could see such practices in Chechnya, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan and now this infection has reached our country.

Do you mean that Kyrgyzstan has already been divided into “administrative religious units”?

Yes, it has, especially, the south of the country.

And what are the authorities doing to prevent this?

They can’t do anything. This is being done secretly.

And what will be the result?

A long-term conflict. Much will depend on who will be our leader and our parliament. For the time being, those people enjoy protection. (For example, in Kyrgyzstan Tablighi Jamaat has a legal status. In Russia and Kazakhstan it is prohibited – EADaily). We keep receiving donations from the Arab world. Our deputies are welcome in Saudi Arabia. The former Saudi king used to grant them gold watches. And that approach was obviously effective.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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