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Islamic State Looking for New Members in Central Asia


Iraqi security forces and Peace Brigades detain 12 fighters of the Islamic State group in Beiji, north of Baghdad, Iraq, June 7, 2015.

Iraqi security forces and Peace Brigades detain 12 fighters of the Islamic State group in Beiji, north of Baghdad, Iraq, June 7, 2015.

Central Asia has increasingly become a source of foreign fighters for militants operating in the Middle East, especially the self-declared Islamic State. The group targets young men in countries with weak economies and undemocratic, repressive governments.

The question is what causes people to join Islamist extremists and what can be done to stop them from doing so.

The United Nations estimates that at least 25,000 people from more than 100 countries belong to the Islamic State or other militant groups. Hundreds of people from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and more than 1,000 men from Kazakhstan have already joined the Islamic State, which some people call ISIS. Those recruitment numbers come from the U.S. Counterterrorism Center.

Congressman Chris Smith is from New Jersey and a member of the Republican Party. He says even government officials in some countries are joining the militants.

“Just last week we learned that the chief of Tajikistan’s counter-terrorism program -- someone highly-trained by the United States government -- abandoned his post to join ISIS.”

Experts are blaming the actions of Central Asian governments for causing people to join the Islamists. The experts note widespread corruption in the area. They also say laws are not fairly enforced, and human rights are violated. The experts say a lack of jobs adds to public dissatisfaction in many parts of Central Asia. Extremists use these issues to win followers to their cause.

Some militant groups can be skillful in their use of social media. The United States is working with foreign governments to prevent the broadcast of terrorist messages through social media and the cross-border movement of fighters.

But experts say there is no easy way to stop terrorists from urging people to join. They say one part of the solution is to work to improve economies so that young people can find jobs in their home country. They say it is easier for militant groups to recruit new members in migrant communities.

Daniel Rosenblum is the Deputy US Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia. He says the terrorist groups try to recruit possible new members wherever they are.

“While there are no reliable statistics, research suggests that the vast majority of Central Asian fighters in Syria and Iraq are recruited while outside their own countries -- mostly while in Russia, where millions of them live as migrant workers.”

Frank Cilluffo is an associate vice president at The George Washington University in Washington. He also serves as the director of the university’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. He says the United States can help other countries fight terrorist recruiting efforts, but long-term solutions must come from the countries themselves.

“They are the ones closest to the action. They are the ones who know their communities, and they are the ones who are ultimately going to either detect and/or prevent, or respond to an incident.”

Experts say governments in Central Asia and other areas must improve their human rights records. They say the governments also need to reach out to minorities and get them involved in problem-solving.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it into Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

source – n. a place or thing that provides what is wanted or needed

recruitment – n. the process of adding new individuals to a group or organization; a campaign to increase membership

abandon(ed) – v. to leave and never return to (something)

reliable – adj. able to be believed; likely to be true or correct

statistics – n. a number that represents a piece of information (such as information about how often something is done or how common something is)

vast – adj. very great in size, amount or extent

ultimately – adv. at the end of a process or period of time

detect – v. to discover or notice the presence of (something that is hidden or hard to see, hear or taste)

respond – v. to do something as a reaction to something that has happened or been done

Is the Islamic State -- or other terrorist groups -- working to gain new members in your country? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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