Report: Top Tajik Officer Arrested Trying to Join Islamic State
The Islamic State has narrowly missed a chance to enlist its most high-profile Tajik recruit to date, according to a sensational report circulating in Tajikistan.
According to TojNews, Turkish authorities have arrested the decorated commander of Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry paramilitary squad (OMON), Gulmurod Halimov, who disappeared last month. Colonel Halimov was travelling on a fake passport with the intention of crossing into Syria, an unnamed Interior Ministry source told TojNews on May 19.
Halimov disappeared on April 23, telling his family he was leaving for a short business trip. His brother told Radio Ozodi that his phone was switched off, but that his personal items, including his passport, were left as if he departed in a hurry. Citing unnamed sources, Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency reported that he flew to Russia on May 1 with ten others and was seen in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport the next day.
The colonel’s disappearance set the Tajik rumor mill into overdrive. A sensational theory emerged: Halimov had joined the Islamic State. A number of Halimov’s colleagues fuelled this speculation, describing how he had developed an unhealthy interest in the terrorist group. Halimov had “become a fanatical follower of the Islamic State and began to spread its propaganda amongst his relatives,” one unnamed friend told Asia Plus.
Sources have been few and Tajik officials have remained tight-lipped. But an Interior Ministry official broke the silence on May 11, telling the Ozodagon news agency that Halimov was on a business trip to Turkey.
Officials have acknowledged that hundreds of Tajik citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to live in or fight for the Islamic State (IS). In April, security chief Saymumin Yatimov told students in the southern city of Kulyab that even children of a number of officials are fighting for IS. Last week, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda gave a precise number: 386.
Alarmed, President Emomali Rahmon has instructed his government to push secularism. In response, police have forced men to shave their beards and harassed women wearing the Islamic veil. Parliament is considering a ban on so-called "Arabic names." Critics fear these efforts will backfire.
Halimov has commanded OMON since 2012 and is reportedly a crack shot. If he were indeed trying to join the Islamic State, his skills would have been useful.