Abstract: A confluence of factors signals an increasing terrorism threat to Tajikistan from the Islamic State in the near future. In late July 2018, Islamic State attackers conducted the group’s first attack in Tajikistan. An Islamic State Tajik spokesman threatened to increase attacks in Tajikistan the following week. Loss of Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria may force the movement of the significant numbers of Tajik citizens fighting there. Separately, the Tajik group Jamaat Ansarullah reportedly pledged allegiance to Islamic State Khorasan, providing Islamic State Tajiks fleeing Syria a base in Afghanistan to join.

In July 2018, four Western cyclists were killed in an attack conducted by five Tajikistani nationals south of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The Islamic State-claimed attack1 is the first known attack on foreigners in Tajikistan.2 a It brings focus to several factors that signal the likelihood of an increasing terrorism threat to Tajikistan in the near future. These factors include an established Central Asian Islamic State node in Afghanistan subordinate to Islamic State Khorasan, the Islamic State’s loss of physical territory in Syria and Iraq, and the prospects for those still alive among an estimated 1,300 to 2,0003 Tajikistan citizens who have been fighting there to return home or flee to other battlefields, such as Afghanistan.

Other factors fueling the threat are reports of the Tajikistan government’s continued repression of political rivals4 and likelihood of military operations in the Gorno-Badakhshan region5—actions that could serve to galvanize opposition against the Tajik government and, in turn, be exploited by jihadis to rally support for resources and fighters. Additionally, Tajik jihadis have increased their stature among global terrorist groups over the past two decades, thus making assistance from larger terrorist organizations or a renewed jihadi focus on Central Asia increasingly probable.6 This article argues that despite the Islamic State’s loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, the group maintains the ability to communicate and to direct external operations in regions such as Tajikistan and, likewise, that such conditions make it increasingly likely that Tajik elements of the Islamic State will make good on their promise to increase operational focus in their home country. On a broader level, this article also seeks to dispel the common misperception that liberating Islamic State-held territory is commensurate with winning the war against this group.

Framing the Threat of Foreign Fighter Outflow
The Islamic State’s physical territory in Syria and Iraq continues to collapse, as coalition operations are ongoing against the group’s last stronghold in the Euphrates River Valley in Syria and near the Iraqi border.7 The fight will undoubtedly continue to shift to an asymmetric war, an environment to which local Iraqi and Syrian Islamic State fighters can easily adapt by blending back into the local population. For the Islamic State’s remaining foreign fighters, however, this is not likely an option. While many Islamic State foreign fighters have been killed, a senior U.N. official estimated in August 2018 that there could be approximately 20,000 foreigners still alive in the Islamic State’s ranks in Syria and Iraq.8 Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are two of the larger per capita global contributors of Islamic State foreign fighters. An estimated 1,300 to 2,000 Tajikistan citizens have reportedly traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State and other jihadi groups. Those Tajik jihadis who have survived could either continue to fight with groups there, chose to return to Tajikistan, or opt to travel to other conflict zones like Afghanistan where one Tajik and several other Central Asian terror groups are established.b

Should Tajik jihadis decide to return home, the Tajikistan government has created an easy path for them to do so. In 2015, the government updated a law allowing authorities to pardon Tajikistan citizens returning home with the stipulation that they are remorseful and did not participate in violence.9 In 2017, Radio Free Europe’s Farangis Najibullah provided unique insight into the story of Tajik citizen and former Islamic State recruit Furqat Vatanov who was successfully reintegrated following his arrest and extradition from Turkey.10 The updated law was probably a genuine initiative by the Tajik government to stem the flow of its citizens to conflict zones and create a peaceful pathway for their return. However, the reported repressive nature of the Tajik government may make Islamic State members who want to go home fear reprisal. This lack of trust and uncertainty may encourage them to seek other options.

Additionally, there are probably larger segments of Islamic State foreign fighters who plan to continue fighting even though the environment in Syria and Iraq grows increasingly inhospitable to their presence. Afghanistan may serve as an alternate location for Central Asian jihadis fleeing Syria and Iraq who want to continue their fight. Conveniently, Afghanistan is already home to several Central Asian terror groups. In summer 2018, the United Nations released a report stating that up to 1,000 fighters, including nationals of the Russian Federation and Central Asian States, were making their way to Afghanistan where 750 nationals of Central Asians—mainly from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—were already located.11 These fighters were believed to be comfortable enough to relocate among Afghans of Uzbek and Tajik ethnicity.12 Islamic State Khorasan integrated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) into its ranks in 2015,13 and the Tajik group Jamaat Ansarullah reportedly merged with Islamic State Khorasan in 2017.14 According to an internal Islamic State communiqué to Islamic State Khorasan that was captured in Afghanistan, another group in Tajikistan—apparently separate from Jamaat Ansarullah—sought to merge with the Islamic State in 2016.c

Tajik foreign fighters less ideologically aligned to the Islamic State could be integrated into one of the two groups in Afghanistan. The first of these groups is the al-Qa`ida-aligned and predominantly Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union in Afghanistan, which has been largely quiet since 2014. The second possibility is the Afghanistan-based wing of the predominantly Uzbek Imam Bukhari Battalion,d which fights under the banner of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in northwest Syria and also provided details on its website in 2016 and early 2017 regarding operations conducted by its Afghanistan-based members in Jowzjan Province.15 e Though other groups exist in Afghanistan, Jamaat Ansarullah is probably the more likely group to integrate Tajik foreign fighters departing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and traveling to Afghanistan.

Jamaat Ansarullah
Jamaat Ansarullah,16 an Afghanistan-based Tajikistani terrorist group, was formed in 2010 with likely fewer than 100 members and has since received support from the IMU, the Taliban, and al-Qa`ida. The group’s stated mission is to bring an ‘Islamic’ government to Tajikistan.17 Beginning with its foundation, Jamaat Ansarullah sporadically published videos and disseminated messages through its website,18 which has been inactive since 2016. The group’s leader Amriddin Tabarov19 was killed in Afghanistan in December 2015 and Tabarov’s son-in-law Mavlavif Salmon was appointed as the new leader by the end of 2016.20

In 2014, Jamaat Ansarullah sent some of its members to fight in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qa`ida-aligned group now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.21 At a point in 2014 or 2015, some Jamaat Ansarullah members ended up fighting alongside the Islamic State. The Islamic State subsequently began financially supporting Ansarullah according to Afghanistan expert Antonio Giustozzi, citing a Jamaat Ansarullah commander.22 This support reportedly caused fissures between Jamaat Ansarullah and al-Qa`ida, and by 2015, Ansarullah received 50 percent of its financial backing from the Islamic State.23

In October 2014, a Jamaat Ansarullah member going by the name Mansur stated on the group’s website that Jamaat Ansarullah considered the Islamic State a jihadi organization, but had paused its decision on whether to accept the Islamic State’s claim of being the caliphate.24 Responding to criticism that Jamaat Ansarullah had denigrated the Islamic State, Mansur stated that Shaykh Abdul Wali, an alias for then Jamaat Ansarullah leader Amriddin Tabarov, had met with and discussed Jamaat Ansarullah’s potential allegiance to the Islamic State several times with a certain Shaykh Abul Hudoyi Sudani.25 Shaykh Abul Hudoyi Sudani is very likely a reference to Abu Huda al-Sudani,g who in 2014 was one of the first Wazirstan, Pakistan-based al-Qa`ida members to split from al-Qa`ida and join the Islamic State.26 Jamaat Ansarullah reportedly negotiated a merger with the Islamic State Khorasan in February 2017, according to Giustozzi, citing a source in the IMU and another in Jamaat Ansarullah.27 Jamaat Ansarullah’s reported merger with the Islamic State Khorasan provides Tajiks fighting with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq a foundation of their own countrymen to integrate into should they travel to Afghanistan.

The July 2018 Islamic State Claimed Attack
On July 29, 2018, five Tajik fighters who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State conducted a vehicle and knife attack against a group of Western cyclists in Danghara District south of the capital city of Dushanbe. The attack killed two Americans, a Swiss, and a Dutchman, and was the first known attack against Westerners in Tajikistan.28 The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency circulated a Russian-language video with Arabic subtitles the next day on social media depicting the five attackers in front of an Islamic State flag pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.29

Casting doubt on the attackers’ claim of Islamic State affiliation, the Tajikistan government blamed elements of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)h and downplayed the Islamic State link as a ruse. Insightful reporting from Radio Free Europe indicated the attack ringleader and sole survivor Hussein Abdusamadov confessed to the attack and claimed to have received “ideological and military-sabotage training” in 2014-2015 in Iran, where he “joined the IRPT extremist group” and met with an individual named Qori Nosir.30 Qori Nosir (aka Norirhoja Ubaidov) was described as a Tajik cleric who encouraged the attackers via WhatsApp to target Westerners as a means for gaining increased media attention.31 The IRPT denied conducting the attack.32

The Islamic State claimed the attack through its official media outlet and disseminated a prior-to-the-attack recorded video of the attackers pledging allegiance the following day, which suggests the attackers had a clear line of communication with Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State leaders prior to the attack. No available evidence indicates any of the attackers had traveled to conflict zones in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, suggesting the attack may have been directed remotely through the internet. Radio Free Europe reported many of the attackers, to include Abdusamadov, had worked in Russia33—a radicalization pathway34 common among Central Asian jihadis in Syria and Afghanistan.

These dynamics indicate the Islamic State’s media apparatus continues to operate and is able to claim credit a day after an attack. It is also likely able to continue inspiring attackers virtually around the globe despite its loss of physical territory in Syria and Iraq.

A view of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan (Yegor Aleyev/TASS via Getty Images)

The Islamic State’s Tajik Frontman
In early August 2018, a week following the attack on the cyclists, a nine-minute, Tajik-language audio message from Islamic State member Abu Usama Noraki threatened Tajikistan president Emomali Rahmon.35 Abu Usama Noraki is very probably synonymous with a Syria-based Islamic State member whom Tajik authorities identified as 31-year-old Tojiddin Nazarov in March 2018.36 Tajik authorities stated Abu Usama was from Norak, located in Khatlon province southeast of Dushanbe, and called him the “Islamic State’s most dangerous recruiter among Tajiks.”37 According to the same Tajik authorities, Abu Usama Noraki joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in 2014, previously worked with the IMU, and was radicalized when he was a migrant laborer working in Russia.38 Noraki is a prominent Islamic State spokesperson to a Tajik-language audience39 and since at least 2015 has frequently disseminated audio speeches through an Islamic State-affiliated, Tajik-language Zelloi channel that now has approximately 15,000 subscribers.40

Noraki’s early August 2018 message regarding the Tajikistan president was likewise disseminated via Zello and social media sites. Noraki stated Rahmon was acting against Islam and that Islamic State mujahideen would soon move to Tajikistan and overthrow the government. Noraki claimed the killing of foreigners, an obvious reference to the July 29, 2018, attack, was the “first bell” for future jihad and attacks in Tajikistan. Noraki also called on Tajik government officials to join Islamic State ranks and praised a certain Shaykh Abu Malik for providing the Islamic State with Tajik military insight. Shaykh Abu Malik is the nom de guerre of the former commander of Tajikistan’s OMON (Special Purpose Police Unit) Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov who defected to the Islamic State in 2015, was appointed Islamic State War Minister in 2016, and may have been killed in 2017.j

In February 2018, Noraki released an audio message through the same Zello channel threatening that “the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Sweden, and other countries can count on, but do not know when, the Islamic State could attack.”41 Noraki also sought to dispel rumors of Khalimov’s death in another audio message from August 3, 2017.42

Through online communication applications like Zello, Noraki’s audio speeches serve as a primary mechanism for the Islamic State to recruit, radicalize, mobilize, and guide operatives, and possibly coordinate financial support from a global Tajik-speaking diaspora. Tajik authorities believed Noraki has over the years recruited over 100 Tajik nationals from Russia to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.43 Specifically, in 2015, Noraki was believed to have recruited 14 individuals from Norak. Later, in 2017, Noraki’s audio messages motivated another seven individuals to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad.44

Noraki is also known to Swedish and Russian authorities as being the Islamic State leader responsible for directing attacks on their soil. On April 7, 2017, ethnic Tajik and Uzbekistan citizen Rakhmat Akilov drove a stolen beer truck into a crowd of shoppers in Stockholm, Sweden, killing five and injuring 15.45 Akilov was arrested several hours later and admitted to Swedish authorities that he was in direct communication with and acted under the direction of high-level Islamic State representatives in Iraq. According to Swedish police, Akilov shared a picture of himself on Zello in the cab of the hijacked truck prior to the attack.46 Akilov also communicated with Abu Usama Noraki and told Swedish investigators that Noraki was “the amir in our state” and “it was he who ruled my actions.”47

In August 2017, Noraki was again implicated in leading an Islamic State external operation in Moscow, Russia. Russian authorities disrupted the Islamic State plot and arrested three Tajik nationals—Sovovush Davronzoda, Davlator Hojiev, and Sulaymon Burhanov—for planning suicide attacks. The would-be attackers identified a certain Abu Usama Noraki48 k to Russian authorities as the individual who prepared and directed them to conduct the attack in Moscow. Tajik officials subsequently identified Abu Usama Noraki as the aforementioned Tojiddin Nazarov.49 Russian authorities reportedly arrested one Russian and three individuals from Central Asia—a group that reportedly included an Islamic State emissary, an explosives expert, and two suicide bombers.50 The group was directed by two senior Islamic State militants in Syria who hailed from the “former Soviet Union” and planned to target public transit and shopping areas in Moscow.51 No details were released on how Noraki prepared and directed the attackers, though he probably used online messaging applications.

The Khalimov Factor
While Noraki is lesser known to Central Asia and terrorism watchers, the aforementioned Gulmurod Khalimov is a well-known player. Khalimov is the highest-profile Tajik citizen to have joined the Islamic State and continues to be the subject of a $3 million bounty offered by the United States.52 The current whereabouts and disposition of the Islamic State’s War Minister and defected Tajikistan OMON commander remain a mystery. Conflicting reports since 2017 have indicated Khalimov is dead and also alive. In September 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Defense reported Khalimov was killed in a Russian military airstrike in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, though his death has not been confirmed.53 In September 2018, two sources—a Tajik opposition leader and an Afghan intelligence official54—reported that Khalimov was alive and had moved from Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan where he was making preparations to enter and fight in Tajikistan.55 Khalimov was additionally focused on recruiting Tajik migrant laborers in Russia.56

Khalimov’s role in the Islamic State was likely focused more on directing on-the-ground operations in Syria and Iraq and less on external priorities, based on his 2016 appointment as Islamic State’s war minister. Nonetheless, three days before the Stockholm attack on April 4, 2017, the attacker Akilov sent a message to someone using the online moniker “Anas Abu Malik,” a known alias for Gulmurod Khalimov.57 Though the content from these conversations has not been released, it does suggest Khalimov communicated with Akilov before an operation. The report of Khalimov traveling to Afghanistan to prepare for future operations in Tajikistan shares the same theme as Noraki’s early August 2018 message threatening an increased Islamic State focus against Tajikistan.

The late July 2018 attack in Tajikistan against the Western cyclists serves as an important “first bell,” as Noraki warned in early August 2018, to indicate a growing terrorism threat to Tajikistan. Additional factors supporting an increased threat to Tajikistan are the collapse of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the potential resulting outflow of Tajik foreign fighters located there to their home country, or possibly Afghanistan; Jamaat Ansarullah’s reported merger with Islamic State Khorasan; and Gulmurod Khalimov’s possible relocation to Afghanistan to increase Islamic State efforts against Tajikistan.

What would the threat to Tajikistan look like, and what indicators might signal the materialization of this forecast? The appointment of a Tajikistan-focused leader by the Islamic State coupled with an increase in Islamic State media messaging against Tajikistan would likely serve as an indicator of coming attacks. While Noraki’s early August 2018 warning serves this purpose, he lacks a known leadership position, which would bring increased responsibility, attack focus, and operational intent. Likewise, the appointment of a Tajikistan representative within the Islamic State or Islamic State Khorasan would signal operational intent to increase attacks and the development of a concerted strategy. An increase in Islamic State attacks would likely range from a sporadic campaign of high-level media-generating attacks against significant targets, like the late July 2018 cyclist attack, to low-level attacks against Tajik government authorities, or a combination thereof. Tajik Islamic State attackers would likely employ tactics oft seen in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan—from coordinated suicide and small-arms attacks involving multiple attackers down to lower-level operations with small arms. An attack campaign based exclusively or near exclusively on high-profile attacks, particularly against strategic Tajikistan government or Western targets, would indicate the Islamic State is making good on its threats but is not yet well organized. Conversely, if the Islamic State begins to conduct frequent lower-level attacks inside Tajikistan, this would likely demonstrate a more focused strategy and the potential use of a Tajik-based support node.

The Tajikistan government’s reported repression of political rivals and threat of conducting military operations in sensitive areas like the Gorno-Badakhshan region may calcify opposition against this government. Jihadis could exploit such opposition as a means for rallying resources, popular support, fighters, and increased operational focus. Though it has a propensity to be heavy handed, the Tajik government maintains the ability to manage an insurgency on its soil as long as the factors stabilizing the country remain unchanged. The government does, however, clearly lack the ability to prevent its citizens from joining groups like the Islamic State and also to mitigate threats to its homeland posed by Tajik citizens in exile. The confluence of factors building in favor of the Islamic State against the Tajikistan government is just one important aspect of the growing security challenge Tajikistan could face in the near future. CTC

Damon Mehl is a senior analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense and previously served with the 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint Special Operations Command, and U.S. Central Command. He has nearly eight years of combat experience, primarily in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Mr. Mehl’s research experience has focused on South and Central Asia security issues and transnational terrorism. Follow @DMehlDC

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Substantive Notes
[a] The July 2018 attack was the first Islamic State-claimed attack in Tajikistan and the first documented terrorist attack against foreigners in Tajikistan.

[b] Research into attacks carried out in the West between June 2014 and June 2017 indicated that although 18 percent of attackers were known foreign fighters, the attacks they conducted were among the most lethal, leading to an average of 35 deaths per attack. Lethality is a more readily measurable statistic to demonstrate the threat returning Islamic State foreign fighters demonstrate. Returning foreign fighters have also acquired unique military and jihadi skills during their time with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Skills, credibility, and potential connections with a global Islamic State diaspora could also increase returning foreign fighters’ ability to remain connected to the Islamic State and support radicalization, recruiting, fundraising, and facilitation activities. Lorenzo Vidino, Francesco Marone, and Eva Entenmann, “Fear Thy Neighbor: Radicalization and Jihadist Attacks in the West,” Program on Extremism, George Washington University, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, 2017; “The Challenge of Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters: Research Perspectives,” United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, March 2018; Richard Barrett, “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” Soufan Center, October 2017.

[c] This is based on an internal Arabic letter to Islamic State Khorasan from the Islamic State’s Administration of the Far Wilayahs, dated 15 Rajab 1437H (December 29, 2016) (Harmony document NMEC-2017-417387). In the letter, the Islamic State let Islamic State Khorasan know that it was informed about an individual named Abu-Mu’waiyah al-Tajiki—who is the emir of a battalion called Katibat Ma wara’ an-Nahr (Beyond the River Battalion) located in Tajikistan—who wanted contact with Islamic State Khorasan. Katibat Ma wara’ an-Nahr is also known as Mawarannahr, in English as Transoxiana, or in Arabic as Bilad ma-Wara’al-Nahar and translates to “land beyond the [Oxus] river.” This is the ancient name used for the portion of Central Asia corresponding approximately with modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan, and southwest Kazakhstan. The predominantly Uzbek Imam Bukhari Battalion and the Uzbek faction of Islamic State Khorasan call themselves Mawarannahr mujahideen.

[d] Aka Imam Bukhari Jamaat and Imam Bukhari Brigade.

[e] It is important to note that both the Imam Bukhari Battalion and the former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members integrated within Islamic State Khorasan also offer Uzbeks fighting in Syria alternate organizations to merge into in Afghanistan that are respectively aligned with al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State.

[f] Mavlavi is a religious title/honorific.

[g] Al-Sudani is a reference to Abu Huda being either of Sudanese citizenship or ethnicity.

[h] The IRPT was the primary opposition during the 1992-1996 Tajikistan civil war. The IRPT was given representation in the government until the group was banned in 2015.

[i] Zello is a mobile voice and text communications application.

[j] OMON stands for Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya or Special Purpose Police Unit, subordinate to Tajikistan’s Ministry of Interior.

[k] Alternative kunyas for Abu Usama Norak are Abu Usadoor Noraki, Abu Usadr Norak, and Abu Usatoor Noraki.

[1] Islamic State, “Issue 142, al-Naba: Eight Subjects of Crusader Coalition Killed or Wounded in Tajikistan,” social media source, July 31, 2018 (in Arabic); Islamic State, “A’maq: Danghara Area Attackers in Western Tajikistan,” social media source, July 31, 2018 (in Russian).

[2] “Islamic State Claims Attack That Killed Four Foreign Cyclists In Tajikistan,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Tajik Service, July 30, 2018.

[3] Richard Barrett, “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” Soufan Center, October 2017; author interview, R. Kim Cragin, National Defense University, June 2018; Farangis Najibullah, “Life After Islamic State: Pardoned Tajik Militants Navigate Road To Reintegration,” RFE/RL, August 6, 2017.

[4] “Tajikistan: Events of 2017,” Human Rights Watch, 2017.

[5] “Tajik Anti-Crime Drive ‘Causing Tension’ in Eastern Region,” BBC, September 26, 2018; Viktoriya Panfilova, “Rahmon Has Contemplated a Special Operation in the Pamirs. The Leader of Tajikistan Promised To Employ Military in the Fight Against Gangland,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 17, 2018 (in Russian); “Tajikistan Reportedly Sends New Troops to Eastern Region,” BBC, September 19, 2018; “Governor of Volatile Tajikistan Region Replaced,” Akhbor, October 1, 2018 (in Tajik).

[6] For a skeptical view, see Ed Lemon, “Tajikistan Really Jihad’s Next Frontier?” Exeter Central Asian Studies Network, June 13, 2015; Ed Lemon, “Myth or Reality? Tajik Fighters in Syria,” Exeter Central Asian Studies Network, May 6, 2014; Edward J. Lemon, “Daesh and Tajikistan: The Regime’s (In)Security Policy,” RUSI Journal 160:5 (2015): pp. 68-76; and “Interview: Noah Tucker, ‘The “Growing Threat” from Afghanistan is Vastly Overstated,’” Diplomat, January 26, 2016. Antonio Giustozzi also cited these works as providing a skeptical view in his 2018 book, The Islamic State in Khorasan: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the New Central Asian Jihad (London: Hurst).

[7] Rukmini Callimachi, “Fight to Retake Last ISIS Territory Begins,” New York Times, September 11, 2018.

[8] “Seventh report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat,” United Nations, August 2018; Tim Meko, “Now that the Islamic State has fallen in Iraq and Syria, where are all its fighters going?” Washington Post, February 22, 2018; Bethan McKernan, “Up to 30,000 ISIS Fighters Remain in Iraq and Syria, Says UN,” Independent, August 15, 2018.

[9] “Tajikistan pardons more than 100 citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq,” Defense Post, February 8, 2018.

[10] Najibullah.

[11] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, Summer 2018.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Damon Mehl, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 8:6 (2015): pp. 11-15; Merhat Sharipzhan, “IMU Declares it is Now Part of the Islamic State,” RFE/RL, August 6, 2015.

[14] Giustozzi, pp. 156-157; Harmony document NMEC-2017-109444, internal Arabic Islamic State letter to Islamic State Khorasan dated 27/05/1438H (February 24, 2017).

[15] Author’s personal research archive from videos and statements acquired from Imam Bukhari Battalion’s websites in 2016 through 2017 in Uzbek.

[16] For background on Jamaat Ansarullah, see Erlan Karin, “The Soldiers of the Caliphate: The Anatomy of a Terrorist Group,” Astana: The Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, 2016.

[17] “Statement of Jamaat Ansarullah to the Tajikistan government and National Security Agency, as well as a copy to the religious and honorable people of Tajikistan,” via Jamaat Ansarullah’s website, September 27, 2013 (in Tajik).

[18] Irshod.com, irshod.info, irshod.org, and various other extensions.

[19] Mark Vinson, “Radicalization of Migrant Workers in Russia Could Threaten Stability in Tajikistan,” Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor 10:146 (2013).

[20] Nadin Bahram, “New Threats From Jamaat Ansarullah Hollow, Observers Say,” Central Asia News, March 22, 2017; Nodirbek Soliev, “Central Asia,” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies 9:1 (2017): p. 64.

[21] Written statement, “Jamaat Ansarullah,” via Jamaat Ansarullah’s website, October 29, 2014 (in Tajik).

[22] Giustozzi.

[23] Giustozzi. According to information provided by Giustozzi’s sources, the IMU provided 30 percent and al-Qa`ida provided the remaining 20 percent. Giustozzi quotes first-hand sources that have provided unique insight into Jamaat Ansarullah’s receipt of financial support from the Islamic State and funding from al-Qa`ida and the IMU. While first-hand, this information has not been corroborated by separate sources.

[24] Written statement, Mansur, “Jamaat Ansarullah,” via Jamaat Ansarullah’s website, October 29, 2014 (in Tajik).

[25] Translated name from Tajik.

[26] Tom Hussein, “Pakistan Experts Expect More Defections to the Islamic State,” McClatchy DC Bureau, October 27, 2014; Don Rassler, “Situating the Emergence of the Islamic State in Khorasan,” CTC Sentinel 8:13 (2015).

[27] Giustozzi.

[28] “Islamic State Claims Attack That Killed Four Foreign Cyclists In Tajikistan,” RFE/RL, July 30, 2018.

[29] Islamic State, “A’maq: Danghara Area Attackers in Western Tajikistan,” social media source, July 31, 2018 (in Russian).

[30] Mumun Ahmadi, Andy Heil, and Ron Synovitz, “From ‘Presidential Lyceum’ to Jihadist Drifter: The Mutable Path of an Accused Terrorist ‘Ringleader’ in Tajikistan,” RFE/RL, August 15, 2018.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] For additional details on how Central Asian migrants in Russia are radicalized and recruited into the Islamic State, see Noah Tucker, “Islamic State Messaging to Central Asian Migrant Workers in Russia,” Central Asia Program, CERIA Brief No. 6, February 2015; Mohammed S. Elshimi with Raffaello Pantucci, Sarah Lain, and Nadine L. Salman, “Understanding the Factors Contributing to Radicalisation Among Central Asian Labour Migrants in Russia,” Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, April 2018; and Zachary Reeves, “Radicalizing the marginalized: Central Asian migrants in Russia,” University of Texas, May 2018.

[35] Audio statement, “Islamic State Statement to the President of Tajikistan,” Abu Usama Noraki, social media source, August 2018 (in Tajik).

[36] Ola Westerberg, “Akilov’s Leader Continues to Threaten,” Tidningarnas Telegrambyra (TT) (in Swedish), March 4, 2018. The Prague-based Akhbor Tajik-language website also corroborated these details.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ola Westerberg, “Akilov’s Contacts Point to IS in Iraq,” Tidningarnas Telegrambyra (TT), February 2, 2018 (in Swedish); Frida Svensson, “Attack Planned By ISIS Cell – Here Are Their Real Names,” SvD Online, February 14, 2018 (in Swedish); “Abu Usama Noraki Guided 3 Tajiks to Organize Terror Attack in Moscow,” RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, August 16, 2017 (in Tajik).

[39] According to multiple cited Swedish, Russian, and RFE/RL articles.

[40] Westerberg, “Akilov’s Leader Continues to Threaten;” Westerberg, “Akilov’s Contacts Point to IS in Iraq.”

[41] Westerberg, “Akilov’s Leader Continues to Threaten.”

[42] “Abu Usama Noraki Guided 3 Tajiks to Organize Terror Attack in Moscow.”

[43] “’ISIS Spokesman Sends Threatening Message to Tajik President,” Akhbor (in Tajik), August 6, 2018.

[44] Ibid.; “Abu Usama Noraki Guided 3 Tajiks to Organize Terror Attack in Moscow.”

[45] Goktug Sonmez, “Violent Extremism Among Central Asians: The Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and New York City Attacks,” CTC Sentinel 10:11 (2017).

[46] Westerberg, “Akilov’s Contacts Point to IS in Iraq.”

[47] Ibid.

[48] “Abu Usama Noraki Guided 3 Tajiks to Organize Terror Attack in Moscow.”

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Gulmurod Khalimov Reward,” Reward for Justice.

[53] Maxim Suchkov, “Don’t Let the Islamic State Slip the Noose in Syria,” Al Monitor, September 11, 2017.

[54] “Tajik Islamic State Commander Moves to Afghanistan,” BBC Monitoring, September 14, 2018.

[55] “Watch Colonel Gulmurod Inside Afghanistan: He Has a Message for Dushanbe?” Akhbor in Tajik, September 24, 2018.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Anna Ernius, “Review: Akilov Was Ruled by Islamic State’s Highest Leadership During the Terror Attack in Stockholm,” Samtiden, February 9, 2018 (in Swedish).

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up