ISIS threatens stability of former Soviet Republics, says Russian spy chief

ISIS Afghanistan

Thousands of Islamic State fighters are operating in Afghanistan’s northern border regions and are attempting to destabilize former Soviet Republics with substantial Muslim populations, according to Russia’s domestic spy chief. This warning was issued by Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which functions as Russia’s primary counter-terrorism agency. Bortnikov made these remarks during a visit to the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, for a meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an intergovernmental organization comprised of former Soviet Republics in the Eurasian region. The meeting was reportedly held behind closed doors, but Russia’s government-owned news agency TASS carried a summary of Bortnikov’s remarks.

The Russian intelligence chief said that, with the aid of the intelligence services of CIS states like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and others, the FSB was able to uncover and suppress eight Islamic State cells in the past year, which operated in the Central Asian region. However, the reach of the CIS countries does not extend to Afghanistan, said Bortnikov, where as many as 5,000 Islamic State fighters are congregating along the country’s border with three CIS states, namely Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many of these fighters are Turkmens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, and other citizens of CIS states, who previously fought with the Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere, and now form integral components of the Islamic State’s fighting force in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It appears that the Islamic State is now attempting to exploit the mountainous and porous borders of northern Afghanistan in order to destabilize neighboring countries, he said. These fighters intend to exploit “migrant and refugee flows [in Central Asia] in order to operate covertly from the Afghan battle zones to neighboring countries” and from there possibly to Russia, according to Bortnikov.

These covert activities of Islamic State fighters have already caused an escalation of tensions in the region and can be expected to continue to do so, as these groups radicalize and co-opt Muslim communities in CIS countries, noted Bortnikov. He added that popular responses to Islamist radicalization are prompting increasing incidents of “anti-Islamic terrorism”, which further-fuel religious and ethnic tensions in the region. As a reminder, last week the Islamic State announced that its so-called Khorasan Province fighters would be amalgamated into a new armed group calling itself Islamic State – Pakistan Province. Earlier this month, the group also proclaimed the establishment of a new overseas province in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, called “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind). In addition to these two forces, there are currently an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan’s Pashtun regions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2019 | Permalink

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Russia, US, deny conducting mystery airstrikes in Tajikistan

Afghanistan TajikistanRussia, the United States and Tajikistan have all denied that they were behind a series of mystery airstrikes that took place along the Tajik-Afghan border on Sunday, while the identity of the targets also remains unknown. The 800-mile border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan consists of mountainous terrain. Unlike the Afghan-Pakistani border, which is rife with skirmishes and firefights, the Afghan-Tajik border is usually peaceful and sparsely guarded. But on Sunday, August 26, local officials from both sides of the Afghan-Tajik border reported that fighter jets conducted a series of airstrikes. News media in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe said that Tajik border guards exchanged fire with Taliban fighters, killing as many as eight, but losing two officers in the process. However, on Monday a Tajik border police official denied media reports and said that the border incident involved Tajik lumberjacks who were attacked by unknown assailants from Afghanistan.

Adding to the mystery, Afghan officials said on Sunday that fighter jets bombed Afghan territory adjacent to the Tajik border. They added that they did not know if the fighter jets were Russian or Tajik. However, Tajikistan has a nominal air force consisting of no more than four Czech-made light-attack aircraft, which have not been used in over a decade. That leaves Russia, which maintains an air base in the suburbs of Dushanbe, 100 miles from the Afghan border. But on Monday, Moscow denied any involvement in the incident, as did Tajikistan. Russian officials placed the blame on the US, saying that the American-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force in Afghanistan is known to regularly launch airstrikes throughout Afghanistan. But US Pentagon officials said that they were not involved. When asked by reporters in Kabul, Afghan government representatives said that Afghanistan lacked the ability to monitor its airspace due to a lack of radar equipment. They called on the US-led NATO force to investigate Sunday’s incident.

Meanwhile, the identity of the persons targeted in the alleged airstrikes is also in doubt. On Monday, the Taliban denied that they had engaged with either Afghan or Tajik government forces along Afghanistan’s northern borderlands, saying that they had not authorized their fighters to operate in the area. Additionally, the Taliban have not been known to engage Tajik government troops in the past. Some observers have opined that the border skirmish may have been caused by drug smugglers who regularly transport drugs from Afghanistan to Russia or the Caspian Sea region through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However, there are no prior reported incidents of Russian, American or Tajik fighter jets having been deployed along the Afghan-Tajik border to combat drug traffickers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 August 2018 | Permalink

Army colonel who joined ISIS was trained in the United States

Gulmurod KhalimovA former army colonel and police commander in Tajikistan, who features in a new Islamic State propaganda video, was trained in counterterrorism by the United States government, according to officials. Until earlier this year, Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov was a commander in Tajikistan’s Special Purpose Mobile Units. Known commonly as OMON, these elite units are a cross between anti-riot corps and counterterrorism forces. They date from the Soviet era and are common features of the law enforcement architecture of most former Soviet republics, including Tajikistan, whose population is 98 percent Muslim.

The government of Tajikistan launched an extensive search campaign in April of this year, following the mysterious disappearance of Colonel Khalimov. But the police commander reappeared on Wednesday in a video published online by the militant group Islamic State, which also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In the video, Khalimov is seen wearing a black ISIS combat uniform and brandishing a sniper rifle. Speaking in Russian, he warns Russian and American citizens that ISIS will “find your towns, we will come to your homes and we will kill you, God willing”. He also states in the video that he participated in a number of counterterrorist training programs on American soil between 2003 and 2007. At least one of these programs, which were presumably funded by Washington, took place in the US state of Louisiana. Khalimov adds —without providing details— that it was the things he experienced during these training programs that led him to join ISIS.

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the US Department of State told CNN that Khalimov was indeed among an elite group of Tajik counterterrorism operatives who took part in five training courses funded by the US government. The funding was reportedly provided under the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security and Anti-Terrorism Assistance program, which is designed to “train candidates in the latest counterterrorism tactics”. Ironically, these tactics are meant to be employed against groups like ISIS, which Khalimov appears to have joined. A report on CNN notes that counterterrorism experts are now concerned that Khalimov’s defection to ISIS will give the group invaluable insider’s knowledge of counterterrorism techniques, as taught by US instructors.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/01/01-1706/

Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. Read more of this post

‘Lord of War’ weapons smuggler enjoys Russian protection

Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The case of notorious arms smuggler Viktor Bout is well known. Born in Dushanbe, Soviet Tajikistan, in 1967, Bout served in the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) until the collapse of the USSR, at which point he began supplying weapons to shady groups, ranging from Congolese rebels and Angolan paramilitaries to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In March of 2008, Bout, known as ‘Lord of War’, was finally arrested by the Royal Thai Police, after a tip by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers. The latter had managed to lure Bout to Thailand by pretending to be Colombian FARC arms procurers. Recently, Washington scored a second victory by convincing Thai authorities to extradite Bout to the United States on terrorism charges. Presumably, Bout will be tried as an arms smuggler acting on his own accord. But is this right? Read more of this post

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