An interview to intrepidreport with Viktor Mikhailov, director of the Center for the Study of Regional Threats of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Viktor Vladimirovich, can you explain, please, how is the system of recruiting young people into the radical terrorist groups organized?
In 1999, the Uzbek terrorist group Uzbekistan crossed the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan and returned to their training camp in Khorog in Tajikistan.
During this period they also took part in the civil war in Tajikistan.
There were little said, but in this war they were quite successful.
Under the leadership of Juma Namangani, the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), this group was almost ready to take Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
They stood nearly 50 km from Dushanbe and they would have taken it and their dream of creating a theocratic state could become a reality, but at that moment, after the negotiations between Russia and the Tajik opposition, they decided to retreat.
Then they gradually began to squeeze out. Thus, all that is happening today was laid then.
In 1999, there was a meeting between Tahir Yuldash, Juma Namangani with Mullah Omar. During this meeting the decisions was made that the group IMU would receive the territory for training camps of fighters and then join the movement against the “infidels.”
Later in 2000, in North Waziristan, Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldash met with Osama bin Laden.
Thus Juma Namangani was successfully merged into the Taliban’s combat unit.
We can say that Juma Namangani was a naturally born strategist and, therefore, he rapidly advanced in the hierarchy of the Taliban group.
By the end of 2001, under his command there were almost 40,000 militants and several hundred warlords. During this period, Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden almost decided to create a common army, because they were already aware about an invasion of Afghanistan by the United States of America.
Juma Namangani was at the head of this army.
All of the military commanders who supported Juma Namangani and Takhir Yuldash were from Uzbekistan (from Namangan and Fergana regions) and they left the country in 1991–1992.
I must say that they all dreamed of returning back.
Osama bin Laden at this meeting told them: “Despite all your success, here, your goal is Maveranahr and the establishment of the Caliphate on the territory of Turkestan (Central Asian Region).”
I have to say that all the best instructors, specialists in the explosive materials, who dispersed throughout the Middle East, originated from Uzbekistan, so they were in demand.
What is the source of your information?
The information I am talking about is well known by all special services, including the CIA and the Mossad. The Russian foreign intelligence service is also well aware of this.
This information is from the operational sources, and it is not represents the top-secret. But this is very important, because it reflects the ideas and aspirations of the military Uzbek commanders who received the support of Osama bin Laden.
They realized that before they could organize an invasion of the whole territory of Maveranahr (The Central Asian region) they had to be well prepared.
The first thing they decided to do was the creation of Jamaats around the world, including Russia and Central Asia. These structures were supposed to prepare recruits for combat units.
The first Jamaats were created in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These structures were financed from the outside. Today they are quite active in communication with local and national communities (diasporas).These structures carry out the entire recruiting work. And they have already existed for 17 years.
These Jamaats today are situated in the main Russian cities, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Orenburg, Ufa, Novosibirsk and Vladivostok.
Each of these Jamaats acts independently and each Jamaat has its own amir.
Are there any such structures actually created in Central Asia?
They are in Kyrgyzstan, in the south of Kazakhstan, but not in Uzbekistan.
In Russia, they work very carefully and, therefore, it is very difficult for Russian special services to recognize them.
How do they carry out their recruiting work?
Each Jamaat receives money for each new recruit. Recruitment is their main occupation, but not the main source of income. Money comes from abroad from the certain people who sponsor all the processes that are taking place in Afghanistan today. The Jamaats have their own imams, which throw off the tithe, one-tenth of their earnings. Sometimes they are engaged in racketeering, which creates a huge headache for the Russian special services. In this way, 20% of Jamaat’s money is received for recruits. They have their special way for transferring recruits.
Who is their target group and whom are they interested to recruit?
It is a very important point that the structure of the Jamaat, as I said, is very well organized, but despite this their successes are not so significant.
Normally they choose young people who come from a small village, for example, from Surkhandarya or Namangan region. They usually live together 7–8 people in one apartment.
They are most often, close friends, relatives or came from the same small region. They work together on construction sites or in the catering system.
These are young people who come mainly from Namangan, Kokand, Fergana, Karshi, Surkhandarya and Andijan.
As I mentioned, recruiters choose very carefully their potential recruits. It is very important for them that potential candidates have some, even minimal interest in religion.
If this minimal interest exists, the mechanism of recruitment is launched.
Recruiters carefully study these young guys in the mosque.
Among all those who fall into the zone of their interests, they choose those who do not feel very comfortable during prayer.
They come up to them after a prayer and say, “You do not pray as it should be done, and you stand wrong, but if you want, I can teach you all this and during the next time in the mosque, you will feel yourself better?”
I have to say that many young guys from the small Uzbek cities such as Namangan or Karshi do not feel very comfortable in mosques of Moscow, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg or St. Petersburg. They, moreover, are not so well-informed in the rules of conduct in these mosques. Especially if you take into account that these rules are not the same in Novosibirsk and Namangan. Sometimes it happens that if you get into an unfamiliar environment, they are simply lost. And at this moment they meet a recruiter.
He asks about where they live and says: “I will come to see you and I will show you and explain everything about how to behave in mosque and how to pray properly.”
The guys, who live in very bad conditions, eat poorly, arrange a meeting with him.
The recruiter brings some ingredients for preparing the national speciality, pilof for example and they cook together the food. Then he talks to them and he tells them a few simple nuances of behavior in the mosque and shows them how they have to pray properly.
At the same time, he looks at how potentially they can be recruited, studies what they think and the way they think.
One of the important things is that today recruiters do not use any books, booklets, any specific information on flash cards or other electronic media; they use absolutely nothing that could serve as a pretext for the secret services to detain them. And this became the main problem.
A recruiter says: “You are living here in such terrible conditions. You are not eating well. All that you earn you send home. You are persecuted here by the secrete services and the police. Employers often take advantage of you. The Russian racists are persecuting you. You live permanently under fear and tension. Why we Muslims, working for 20 or even more hours per day, are forced to live like this? ”
Each of the recruiters has a tablet with SIM cards and mobile Internet, which is not very expensive in Russia. They download the browser and go to YouTube and start showing videos with scenes of violence, accompanying them with various narrative stories, they say: “Look, how do Muslims live, and what the Americans . . . do with us . . .” and show them videos from the Internet about how the US troops bombed an Uzbek village near the Mazar-e Sharif, on the way where the parents take, under the destroyed houses, the bodies of their children, in order to bury them.
All these video spots are available today on YouTube in the open access. And there are a lot of such videos.
The scenes of violence on these videos have a strong impact on the guys. Then recruiters tell them: “Look! We are capable to defend ourselves.”
At this point, they show them training camps, where young people of their age play sports and learn how to make an explosive devices.
Recruiters demonstrate them how the boys of the same age became fighters, perfectly operating the weapons.
And if a guy is of 18–20 years old, and there is no adult next to him, he is a potential person for recruitment, who can be easily persuaded to go to Syria or to Afghanistan.
After the recruiting process is over, the recruiter resets the browser and any security services are not able to determine what the materials that they showed were.
Recruiters have their own ways of traffic and the delivery of these young people to their destinations.
How are you so aware of all that?
This information I received from those who were recruited, enclosed and deported.
Today in the closed community of special services there are irreconcilable contradictions between the special security services of different countries.
Many of them are sure that radicalization takes place here in Uzbekistan.
In fact, this is not the case. Their conviction is successfully played into the hands of recruiters.
I have to say that to be recruited today is not necessarily the need to be radicalized.
The secret services of many countries do not understand this fact. Sometimes I tend to think that it comfortable to them to think that way.
In order to understand all these nuances it is necessary to know the mentality of the guys who are going to Syria and Afghanistan to do jihad.
Even if the Russian, for example, or the European special services have consultants among the imams, they need to know the Koran themselves.
And what about this situation in our country?
Radicalization is a very big problem and it is also going on in Uzbekistan.
Unfortunately, the state is not in a position to control all the effective systems of secret services that exists.
Every week there are 10 new spots on YouTube, they are produced in special centers for the production and distribution of such materials, which now exist in many countries, for example, in Turkey.
There they have a whole studio for the production of such recruiting materials.
And what can be done to change this?
It is unreal to close YouTube in Uzbekistan.
As it is already known, the basic strategy of the recruitment is the heroization of the image of mujahedeen. And in fact, if you managed to dethrone this strategy of heroization we can prevent it.
In my opinion it is necessary to oppose the strategy of heroization, by telling about the real story of life in the gang of terrorists.
In fact, among them everything is built on the principle of hatred, and if this is became obvious for those whom they recruit, it is possible to prevent the involvement of these young children in their radical groups
For example, when a recruit became the member of a gang, he immediately falls into the hands of a superior, who tests him in order to understand if he is “clean.” It is important to find out whether he was sent by the secret services or no?
He is checked, usually by the best fighters, those who are considered to be the most experienced fighters. They put the newcomer under the most serious physical impact: they beat him for a long time, put him down in front of the others and trying to find out whether he is an employee of a secret service.
As a rule, three among the ten recruited are killed in front of the remaining seven.
This kind of psychological impact is put on that who designed to keep alive.
This is a demonstrative penalty. They spend three months in such a harsh regime, and only after that they get an access to weapons.
Moreover, they do not have any ammunition, because they are still only learning to manipulate weapons. They are not allowed to fight for a long time.
Through every day prayers and sermons, they are inspired that they are only shahids.
They are driven into such a corridor, when they every day have to prove that they are more insurgents than all the others. This becomes their way of survival.
Why, for example, the best’s executioners and murderers are often people of a white race, or European originated? And why are they often forced to be crueler than the Oriental people?
This is because they constantly have to prove that they are real mujahedeen and can be trusted, and they need to keep alive. They have to prove that all the time. All the time they have to earn the right to be called mujahedeen. This is their only way of surviving in these conditions.
Despite the fact that every day five times a day, during prayer, they are persuaded that they are shahids and that they have already given their lives to the caliphate, survival is their main motivation.
They are no longer citizens of their countries at that moment, and they are not yet mujahedeen, they are only shahids for that moment.
They are shahids from the beginning and maybe till their death and they know about it.
They are gradually led to be ready for this mission, and they led to gradually eradicate their instinct of survival. In order be effective this instinct must be turned off.
There are some people who find it difficult to eradicate this instinct. Many psychiatrists wrote about this . . . When we know today how it works, it is possible to create a successful a counter-recruitment system.
All what was already done in reality was not very effective.
I have to say that, after the Andijan events in 2005, some of the militants passed to Kyrgyzstan, and the other part immigrated to Sweden. I’m talking about gunmen who really used the weapon. There were 6 people. They were given citizenship and political asylum in these countries.
In 2016 they were appeared in Syria. I have published a series of articles on this subject.
After these articles were published, I met with members of the Sweden special services.
I asked them: “Why did you allow them to go to Syria? Why you didn’t arrest them?”
They didn’t answer me.
During the period when the terrorists attack occurred in Belgium, the special services arrested all those who were involved in this terrorist attack within one hour.
I understand the secrets services are aware of where the militants are and what are they doing.
Nearly the same story happened in France, when the militants were arrested immediately after the attacks.
So I can to conclude that the secret services know everything, but they are in contradiction with politicians.
I’m not a supporter of conspiracy theory, but I have the impression that special services deliberately create a corridor for all passionate people who are prone to arms in order they flow to the Middle East and kill each other there.
It seems to me that all countries without exception simply want to get rid of them.
But why are they accepted there and why do the politicians of those countries give them political asylum?
They are accepted by politicians, and the secret services do their best to squeeze them out for the Middle East.
In short, everyone who creates problems in one way or another is forced to go to the Middle East and find their own death there.
I think that it is easier than to arrest them, keep them in prisons and judge them.
I cannot to change that . . .