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Tajikistani special forces officer's defection to Islamic State ominous signal to Central Asia

Defection of the commander of Tajikistan's riot police unit to the Islamic State has sent an ominous signal to the authorities in Tajikistan proper and to the entire Central Asia, Russian experts said on Friday.

They believe the multinational character of the threat posed by the Islamic radicals provides enough grounds for all countries to pool efforts in the struggle with it.

Colonel of the Interior Gulmurod Khalilov, who disappeared two weeks ago from Tajikisatan, has confirmed the apprehensions that he might have fled to Syria where he joined the ranks of the Islamic State terrorist grouping.

In a video address uploaded by an Internet portal, the fugitive colonel called on the Moslems in his country "to join the ranks of the Jihadis". He explained for his action by saying he was discontent with the Tajikistani government's policies, the situation in the agencies of law and order, as well as the bans on Islamic clothing and religious rites.

Col Khalilov, 40, took training as a special assignment squad officer in Russia and the U.S. and was placed in command of the riot police unit of the Interior Ministry about three years ago. In addition to it, he was decorated with government awards for an exemplary accomplishment of combat missions.

The self-exiled Khalilov said another nine citizens of Tajikistan had fled the country along with him and he urged other fellow-countrymen to follow in their footsteps. In part, he addressed "the Tajik brothers" working in Russia with an appeal "to stop playing servant to the Russians" and to serve the Almighty only, which meant they had a duty to join the Islamic State.

Alexei Malashenko, a research fellow at Moscow Carnegie Center believes the current situation in Tajikistan is fully conducive to getting the Islamic State in full splendor. "The problem is the grouping may surface not only in Tajikistan but actually across the whole of Central Asia," he told Nezavissimaya Gazeta Daily.

The Khalilov conundrum proves that the attraction of the Islamic State keeps growing, Dina Malysheva, a leading researcher at the Moscow-based Institute for the World Economy and International Relations told TASS.

"It's well known that quite a few descendants from the Central Asia are already warring on its side in Syria now," she said.

This is a potent warning to Central Asian countries and especially to Tajikistan, which already has numerous problems because of a common border with Afghanistan.

"Here we have a good reason for analysis of how to rebuff the IS designs," Malysheva said. "The Central Asian countries and Tajikistan won't be able to resolve the problem on their own and collaboration in the format of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and such efforts are obviously being taken but they are insufficient."

She singled out Khalilov's appeal to the fellow-Tajiks working in Russia to join the IS combatants. "This is a pretty serious warning to the Russian Interior forces." she said.

The grouping's influence has begun to spread beyond the Middle East, as the organizations displaying solidarity with it are increasingly more active in Africa. In Central Asia, the popularity of the Islamic State is growing, too.

"All of this proves the importance of pooling tangible efforts against the trans-Islamic threat, not against the mythical Russian threat, in spite of a worsening of relations between Russia and the West," Malysheva said.

However, the expert community is not unanimous in assessments of Col Khalilov's defection.

A rank-and-file event against the background of the already blazing fire - that is how the story was described by Dr. Yevgeny Satanovsky, a vice president of the Institute for Middle East Studies.

"Is there any surprise in it after Saddam Hussein's deputy and the right-hand man, the entire corps of Iraqi generals who are Sunnis, dozens of thousands of people from Europe, and thousands of people from the CIS have joined the Islamic State?" he asked with a somewhat rhetoric note.

The grouping's influence has long reached out to all the corners of the globe where radical Islam has taken hold, and the post-Soviet space is not an exception, Dr. Satanovsky said.

"The world of radical Islamists is a system of connecting vessels back from the times of Al Qaida," he indicated.

[Source: By Lyudmila Alexandrova, Itar Tass, Moscow, 29May15]

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