Turkmenistan: Was a Turkmen Militant Captured in Syria?
The Kremlin-aligned Vesti.ru website is reporting that a Turkmen citizen fighting with Islamic militants in Syria has been captured by pro-government forces near Aleppo. The prisoner, identified as Ravshan Gazakov, is supposedly a “commander of suicide bombers in one of the squads” operated by the Al Nursa Front, a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda, the report states.
Gazakov – also known as Abu Abdulla, according to Vesti – was reportedly taken prisoner by the Syrian army as part of “Operation Northern Storm.” In seizing his laptop, the army purportedly found footage of Gazakov instructing a suicide bomber and sending him on his way to blow up a government outpost in Aleppo.
There are lots of holes in the Vesti story: it doesn’t say, for example, exactly when or how Gazakov was taken prisoner, or offer a credible explanation as to why a supposed head of a suicide unit would allow himself to be taken alive. There is also no indication how Vesti’s Evgeniy Poddubnyy, the credited author of the report, obtained his intel. Thus, there’s always a chance that this report is mostly Kremlin disinformation.
But if it’s accurate, a quote attributed to Gazakov, in which he describes his own training, is of particular interest for those who follow Central Asian security matters.
“I went through an initial training near Ashgabat as part of Shaikh Murad’s squad, later was sent to Istanbul,” Gazakov is quoted as saying. “There, our group was met by a [operative] from al Qaeda - I don’t know his name - who sent us to a camp on the border with Syria. There we were taught to make bombs, detonators, to mount explosives. We had different instructors, many from the former USSR, Arabs from Europe, from Jordan and from Qatar. Then we crossed the border and made bombs near Aleppo.”
There’s one detail that’s downright hard to believe: Vesti states that Gazakov brought his five-year-old son on his mission to Syria, describing shots from his laptop where the father teaches his son to assemble bombs. The article also makes a sharp jab at the United States and European Union. “Jihad against Syria finally is transforming the armed opposition into a union of radical Salafites. But [Bashar al-] Assad’s opponents in Europe and USA seem not to notice this and continue to insist: this conflict is a purely civil war,” the Vesti article states.
Syria has a small Turkmen minority, which has reportedly aligned itself with the anti-government opposition.