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From Central Asia to Syria: A Teenage Girl’s Jihad
From Central Asia to Syria: A Teenage Girl’s Jihad
Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?
Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

From Central Asia to Syria: A Teenage Girl’s Jihad

As part of research for a report on Central Asian jihadis, to be published in mid-January, Crisis Group has interviewed numerous fighters and their families. In the excerpts below, printed with the permission of the family, the father, Ramaz, tells about his two daughters, one of whom suddenly left home to join the jihad in Syria (and get married there), the other of whom has disappeared and might have joined her sister.

Tell me, please, what is your name?

My name is Ramaz.

How old are you?

43.

Are you working at the moment?

Yes,  I work at a factory.

Did you go to Turkey to look for your daughter?

Yes. On 12 February [2014] my daughter ran away from home. She got a ticket to Turkey. Later that night, at 8 p.m., I called her. She said she was going to her grandmother’s and would stay there. But the next day we found out she went to the airport and flew to Istanbul. I immediately called the National Security Service (SNS) and the State Committee for National Security (SCNS). After I called them, they started working.

Working to find her?

Yes. We explained everything to them…. About two months before she left, she had started praying and reading the Koran at home. I have two daughters. The first is sixteen years old and the second just turned eighteen. They started to apply for documents, travel passports and state ID cards. I asked them why they would need travel passports; they were preparing to go for two months.

Only later did we find out that the eldest was communicating with a guy from Moscow. Her friend told us this. They were communicating by phone, through SMS, and Odnoklassniki (a Russia-based online social network). During those two months she started praying five times a day. She was never out overnight, she always stayed at home. She worked in the beauty salon nearby. She worked there for more than 6 months. She was earning money, she was a good girl. And then one day she announced she didn’t want to work at the salon anymore because she didn’t want to cut men’s hair.

Next thing, she flew quietly to Turkey, and two or three days later contacted us via Skype. As we were talking, our daughter was always looking to the side, back and forth, and it seemed like somebody was standing by her. She said she had arrived in Turkey without problems and that she wanted to study at a madrassa (religious school) in Turkey. Her argument was that she’d get a good education and she asked us for our permission to do this. I rejected her arguments and said the aim of this type of education is to prepare her for jihad. I told her it would ruin  her and that it was unnecessary. I did not agree to it. She just said “okay” and left.

Do you know where she is now?

She says, “I am in Syria right now, Dad. I am in Syria.” Up to that point, we thought she was in Turkey, she told us all the time that she was studying. Later we found out…She told us, “That’s it, we want to tell you the truth”; she said, “Get on Skype.” We went to the internet club and got on Skype.

“I want to tell the truth. I got married,” she told us. I said, “Who is your husband, and where is he from? Introduce me to him.” She said, “Well, he is from Moscow”, but didn’t say anything more. “We are not in Egypt, we are in Syria”, she said. Previously when we talked, I told her “Daughter, come back here, you have a younger brother, a little sister. Do you need all this trouble with Syria as well? Your brother and sister shouldn’t have to pay this price. Come back.” I tell her every time to come back here. “No, I can’t, we can’t”, she says. I returned home from Turkey on 26 March.

On 24 April, our second daughter left the house. The one who is 16 years old. She used to pray as well. We are talking to our eldest daughter and asking where the youngest one is. “She went to you. Where is she? Is she in Turkey or Syria?” we ask. She says “She is in Syria, with the sisters. We can only get on Skype when she gets married. We can do it only with permission.”

You said there is a guy from Russia?

We found this guy. When I got back to Kara-Balta I asked my daughter’s friends about him. They said our eldest daughter communicated with this boy by phone, was friendly, with SMS messages. I found out about him through the Passport Office. He is from the South [of Kyrgyzstan], from Suluktu town but he studied in Kara-Balta. His Muslim name is Umar. I went to his parents, his mother lives here. She said, “He’s in Syria, he will not come home, he doesn’t want to.”

So they got to know each other here?

They’ve known each other a long time.

How? Where?

They studied in the neighboring schools. My daughter was born in 1996 and he was born in 1992 or 1994. He went to Moscow to work. Then he went to Syria and wrote to her from there. He said she would study there and so on. He recruited her.

How many are there?

I know there is someone named Edil from Kara-Balta. He is always in the photos we see. That Edil is always with a gun. And the guy who recruited my daughter, he is there as well.

Did he give you these photos?

No, associates of the SCNS and Interior Ministry showed them to us.

Where did they find them?

On the internet.

She says that she is in Syria?

Yes, she says she is in Syria.

Did her husband talk to you?

Her husband talked to me once. He does not let me say a word. He makes his little speech. He says, “Come to the jihad, brother, what good is there with all the kafirs, come to Syria.” He wants to live the Islamic way, he says. I tell him every time, “Umar, please, let our daughter go, come here or we will come to you. Let’s meet normally as people and no one will touch you.” But no, he only gives his speech.

There is a photo, where Umar is boxing.

When he was here, he was boxing. But, later, he apparently, as far as I understand, left for Russia to work and make money somewhere in construction. His parents told me that. His father worked in Russia but came back. The son stayed on to work. Then, I heard, he became friends with Chechens. He thought he would make easy money in Syria. Well, then he signed a contract and went there.

You mean with the Chechens?

That’s what I heard, yes. Chechens, but maybe they are some Kyrgyz guys. Anyhow, in Moscow he became friends with some guys and they persuaded him, and he went.

Do they say that the guys from Kara-Balta are together there in Syria?

They didn’t say so initially, we found out ourselves. I found out myself. When I went to Turkey, he talked to me, the husband, talked to me in Kyrgyz. But, he looks like a Chechen or a Tatar in the photo. And then I realized he is from here. I asked her girl friends who had she been talking with. They said that for two months it was only Umar, her classmate working in Moscow.

Did she find him through Odnoklassniki or here?

They knew each other here, apparently. But there was no relationship with that guy. They knew each other, but they had no friendship. And at night they used to send each other those text messages. At night, I would ask her, “Who are you writing to?” In just two months she was fully ready to go there. We saw [on a surveillance video] how she left the airport, someone saw her off. One guy saw her off. A white Audi dropped them at the upper level.

Does your eldest daughter know where the youngest daughter is? Do they talk?

We only talk to the eldest daughter. We ask her, “Let us speak to our youngest daughter, give us her number, let us get to her,” but only our eldest daughter gets in touch with us; the youngest one gets in touch only with her. And the eldest passes on messages to us. And the youngest says “Mum, dad, I love you all, I miss you.” So our youngest daughter, she misses us and asks and tells us: “You haven’t forgotten me? Come here.” But, where? There is no answer where. The eldest daughter is inviting her mother. She tells me to stay here but then sometimes she invites me too. But, mainly, she is inviting her mother. She says she is pregnant and wants to deliver the baby at home not in the hospital. We are worried and think about it. What should we do? What should we believe? Maybe she is in Turkey or in Syria? We don’t know.

Do you feel that the eldest daughter worries about the youngest sister or she is not worried about her?

She is talking calmly for some reason. She says she is talking to her every day, on the phone or on Skype, maybe. She is waiting somewhere. She is not worried about her; she says she is being taken care of. Probably, the youngest is texting and the eldest is passing that on. She says the youngest will not come back. She says that everything is fine.

Podcast / Africa

Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, about whether it is time for a new strategy in Mali as the government and its allies struggle against jihadist insurgents. 

The war in the Sahel appears to have reached a stalemate. In Mali, fighting pits the Malian security forces, backed by regional militaries and French special forces and airpower, against an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition, JNIM (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). Since Mali’s crisis in 2012-2013, efforts to defeat jihadist militants have only seen their influence expand. Violence has spread across the Sahel at terrible human cost. Two successive coups in Bamako, Mali’s capital, have fuelled political instability. French officials appear exasperated by the lack of progress. Yet militants themselves are also under pressure, with several leaders killed over recent years. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, to ask whether it is time for a new approach. They take stock of the insurgency’s current state, its aims and JNIM’s relationship with al-Qaeda. They discuss the future of the French presence and the consequences of the recent coups. They also speak at length about prospects for talks between the government and JNIM leaders, what such talks might entail and the challenges such a path would pose. 



Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel and Mali regional pages as well as our work on Jihad in Modern Conflict. Be sure to keep an eye out for Ibrahim’s upcoming report.

Contributors

Interim President
atwoodr
Naz Modirzadeh
Board Member and Harvard Professor of International Law and Armed Conflicts
Consulting Analyst, Sahel
IbrahimYahayaIb