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IS Central Asian Recruitment Drive A Family Affair

Abu Amina, the veteran militant in the Uzbek recruitment video, emphasizes that he has brought his family with him to wage "jihad".
Abu Amina, the veteran militant in the Uzbek recruitment video, emphasizes that he has brought his family with him to wage "jihad".

Faced with growing competition and rising battlefield casualties, the Islamic State (IS) militant group has taken a family-friendly approach to its efforts to draw fresh recruits from Central Asia.

Two videos released last week by the extremists' Russian-language propaganda wing make use of fatherly -- or grandfatherly -- militants to sell recruits on fighting for IS.

One 30-minute video, in Uzbek with Russian subtitles, features a veteran Uzbek militant in his 60s urging Uzbeks of all ages to come to IS-controlled territory.

A second, shorter, clip shows two Kazakh militants and their sons calling on Muslims to leave Kazakhstan and join them in Syria.

Recruitment Drive

The videos produced by Furat Media are part of an intensified drive by the IS group to recruit Central Asian militants.

This move is likely an attempt to replenish numbers after heavy battlefield losses in both Syria and Iraq.

It is also likely a response to increased competition in the recruitment of Central Asian militants from Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.

Though IS and Nusra share similar ideologies, they have demonstrated different strategies in Syria: while IS has declared a "caliphate," Nusra has focused on cooperating with other groups to defeat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The focus on fighting Assad is a powerful recruitment message for Central Asians, including those already in Syria. Nusra absorbed a major Uzbek militant group, Katiba Tawhid wol-Jihod, in September 2015.

The drive also comes as IS recruitment of Central Asians is getting tougher amid security crackdowns, including one in which a group of 16 Uzbeks allegedly involved in recruiting for IS were arrested in Moscow on March 30.

Uzbeks living in Turkey, meanwhile, have reported being interrogated after flying home to Uzbekistan as part of heightened counterterrorism measures.

A Family Affair

Each of the new videos emphasizes that families can and should move to IS-controlled territory.

The Kazakh recruitment video opens with shots of militants with their children: a young teen, a toddler, and a baby. Both militants featured in the video say they moved to Syria with their families.

The first militant identifies himself as Marat Maulenov, who according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service worked as a Russian teacher in a school in the South Kazakhstan region before traveling to Syria with his wife and six children.

The second militant says he is Rinat Zhumabekov, an ethnic Kazakh from Orsk in Russia's Orenburg Oblast. News reports say Zhumabekov disappeared after traveling to Turkey in August 2015 with his 8-year-old son.

Abu Amina, the veteran militant in the Uzbek recruitment video, emphasizes that he has brought his family with him to wage "jihad." He describes how he traveled with his 60-year-old wife, daughters, and grandchildren to IS-controlled Syria in 2015 after fighting for several years with Uzbek militants in Afghanistan. The video features shots of Abu Amina with a small boy, apparently his youngest grandson.

Deirdre Tynan of the International Crisis Group says there have been previous cases in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where family groups have traveled to Syria, or where some family members have left first and then others have joined later.

"I think this is also a key illustration that the appeal of life in Syria under Islamic State is not confined to those who would seek a combat role," Tynan tells RFE/RL.

Child Militants

A key message of both videos is that teenage militants are among the Central Asians fighting in IS-controlled lands, and that younger children are also getting involved in "jihad."

The Kazakh video shows shots of a teenage boy carrying a gun and a young child who threatens Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

In the Uzbek video, veteran militant Abu Amina boasts that his teenage grandson is fighting alongside him in Syria and he says that boys as young as 14 are on the battlefield.

Prestige, Respect, And Trust

The videos use militants whose backgrounds are intended to inspire respect and trust among potential recruits to make the case that IS has the "correct" Islamist ideology, a tactic that is also a response to increased competition for recruitment with Nusra, which has accused IS of killing Muslims, among other crimes.

Zhumabekov from the Kazakh video says that he is a former law enforcement officer, while Abu Amina from the Uzbek recruitment video says that before joining IS he spent seven years in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he fought alongside the notorious Uzbek militant Najmiddin Jalolov in the Islamic Jihad Union, a militant group affiliated to Al-Qaeda that conducted attacks in Uzbekistan.

Whether the recruitment drive will result in increased numbers of Central Asians joining the IS group remains to be seen. But the two videos have been widely spread online, reflecting Furat Media's increased reach via social media, including on the Telegram messaging service.