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Amnesty for Repentance: Tajikistan's Radical Approach on Returning Islamic State Fighters

Officials are offering forgiveness to returning Tajik jihadists, in a radical departure from policies and stances taken by European and other nations.
June 5, 2015, 5:00pm
Photo by Alaa al-Shemaree/EPA

Tajikistan is taking a radial approach toward jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq — by granting citizens of the country amnesty in exchange for their repentance, and a chance to stop other Tajiks from traveling abroad to join the likes of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The landlocked Central Asian nation has departed from other countries in Europe and elsewhere in it's methods of dealing with fighters returning from battle in areas like Syria and Iraq, where militants have been waging a bloodied territorial grab.

Instead of threatening returning militants with imprisonment or stripping them of their citizenship, officials with the post-Soviet nation have opted to forgive first time terrorists — provided they have had no previous links with extremist groups, and choose to repent.

"Young people who took part in military conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and other countries but have realized their mistake, regret their action, and voluntarily leave the conflict zone... will be allowed to return home," the Ministry of Internal Affairs has previously said about the country's offer.

While Tajik officials won't help these IS defectors escape to safer ground in neighboring countries like Turkey, they will provide consular assistance after those who flee find their own way across the border, and help them get documents to back to their homes in Tajikistan, authorities said.

The government has also set up a "Trust Line," manned by officers and psychologists, which Tajik fighters can call if considering a return home. The operators on the line individually assess the authenticity of the fighter's desire to return, and his or her intentions. So far, the line has received "several phone calls" since it was set up on May 9, RFE/RL reported.

Related: A French Jail Is Trying to Halt Radicalization by Isolating 'Radical Muslim' Prisoners Together

In late May, Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, who commanded Tajikistan's special-purpose police force known as Omon, and was trained in the United States, appeared in a YouTube video declaring allegiance to IS. He had disappeared in April.

"Listen, you dogs, the president and ministers," Khalimov said in the video, "if only you knew how many boys, our brothers, are here, waiting and yearning to return to Tajikistan to re-establish sharia law there. We are coming for you, inshallah."

In recent months, at least six Tajik fighters have returned home — five of whom have been granted Amnesty, according to officials. The sixth fighter is set to stand trial on charges of participating in a foreign conflict.

A couple of the reformed militants have since joined anti-IS campaigns, speaking at mosques and public gatherings around the country about the atrocities committed by the militant group, to dissuade others from joining.

"But there is no religion," returned fighter Rizvon Ahmadov, 22, said, according to RFE/RL. "When they occupy a place, they kill local men and marry or sell their wives. They rape women and sell children. They oppress people living there."

The approach is vastly different from those taken by countries like France, which routinely imprisons returning fighters — a method that has been thought to actually incubate extremism within prison walls — and Australia, which has threatened to take citizenship away from dual-nationality fighters in the face of fierce criticism labeling the plan as "irresponsible" and "dangerous."

Britain has also previously proposed to ban suspected British jihadists who travel to Syria or Iraq from returning to the UK for two years.

Related: British Jihadis Fighting Abroad Could Be Banned From Returning Home For Two Years Under New Proposal

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