Overview: The Kyrgyz Republic’s CT efforts continue to focus on rooting out “extremists,” CVE, limiting the flow of Kyrgyz FTFs, and preventing those returning from conflicts abroad from engaging in terrorist activities. While the Kyrgyz Republic is concerned about ISIS, ISIS-K, and other terrorist groups, including from Afghanistan, it has not contributed to Defeat-ISIS Coalition efforts or U.S. CT operations, due in part to a lack of resources. Terrorist attacks in the country remain rare, but the August 2016 suicide bombing against the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek and continued reports of terrorism-related arrests in 2019 – primarily FTFs returning from conflict zones – underscore the potential threat facing the country. The Kyrgyz government restricts public information on national security issues, making it very difficult to assess the efficacy of its CT operations and the true extent of the threat. The country remains vulnerable to transnational threats, especially in the remote South, where ill-defined and porous borders allow for the relatively free movement of people and illicit goods in and out of the country. According to government statistics, approximately 850 Kyrgyz citizens have left the country to join ISIS or other terrorist groups. Most experts believe the true number is higher. The Kyrgyz government faces limitations on its ability to prosecute and rehabilitate returning FTFs due to a lack of expertise, resources, and potential shortcomings in the legal framework. The country has seen the return of approximately 300 FTFs and family members.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: As a part of ongoing criminal justice reform, the new criminal code entered into force on January 1, which decreased criminal penalties for several terrorism-related crimes. The updated law governing “extremist materials” now requires that law enforcement agencies demonstrate an intent to distribute “extremist materials” to justify the arrest of a suspect. Prior to the changes to the law, police were authorized to arrest suspects based on simple possession. Arrests have dropped sharply, and local media reported a total of only six prosecutions under the new law. There were no reports in 2019 of the government using CT laws to prosecute political opponents.
In 2018, the government reportedly installed three sets of electronic gates at the Manas Airport in Bishkek and two at the Osh airport for verification of biometric passports of Kyrgyz citizens. There is no information indicating that the government is utilizing these e-gates to scan passengers against a terrorist watchlist. The government has expressed interest in acquiring an API/PNR system for commercial flights, but this initiative would require significant donor support. International organizations and host country contacts have expressed concerns that the Prosecutor General’s Office and State Committee for National Security (GKNB) lack the adequate tools or legal framework to properly prosecute citizens suspected of committing terrorist acts abroad. There were no other changes to border security since 2018.
Authorities continued to report a slow but steady stream of terrorism-related arrests in 2019, many of which involved Kyrgyz and foreign citizens who reportedly fought in Syria. According to media reports, there are 44 people currently in prison after returning from fighting in Syria. During the year, security services reportedly arrested several FTFs upon their return from Syria as they attempted to cross the border. These suspects reportedly planned to receive instructions on the organization of terrorist activities in Kyrgyz or in the Commonwealth of Independent States region. In October, the GKNB reported to the Kyrgyz parliament that 16 people involved in terrorist organizations had been detained – 11 on terrorism charges and five for “religious extremism.” The GKNB reported that, during the first nine months of the year, the government seized 399 pieces of “extremist materials” but, due to the recent changes to the “extremism” law, did not initiate criminal cases. In November, local media reported that authorities uncovered an ISIS sleeper cell established by a Kyrgyz citizen who was recruiting compatriots to carry out terrorist attacks in the Kyrgyz Republic.
In September, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, as well as ODNI, conducted a joint review of the Kyrgyz Republic’s compliance with U.S. identity-management protocols and information sharing procedures as outlined in Executive Order 13780 and Presidential Proclamation 9645. The review identified a number of key areas that did not sufficiently meet the outlined standards, including lack of a documented process for regularly and proactively providing information to the U.S. government about Known or Suspected Terrorists (KSTs); failure to issue electronic passports for Ordinary/Regular and for other major classes of passport, such as Diplomatic, Official, and Service passports; and failure to report lost and stolen travel documents to INTERPOL on an average of at least once a month (every 30 days), among other shortcomings.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the EAG. There were no significant changes to the Kyrgyz government’s efforts and capacity related to CFT in 2019. In 2019, the FIU lodged 169 money laundering reports and 118 terrorism financing reports and sent 558 financial investigative requests to relevant law enforcement bodies.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Kyrgyz government’s national program and action plan on countering terrorism was in its second year of implementation in 2019. Approval of the program and action plan was considered a positive first step in establishing a coordinated national strategy, but as year two comes to a close, the government has done little to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment. Civil society has routinely expressed concerns that the government is using the national program and action plan to muzzle free speech and to stigmatize ethnic minorities.
The Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), started implementing a new curriculum for high school-aged students on “moderate” Islam and identifying terrorist recruitment tactics. The Ministry of Interior and the SCRA, often in cooperation with local religious leaders and civil society, continue to host CVE roundtables and seminars and produce public awareness and counter-messaging material distributed across a range of media platforms, with much of the focus on preventing radicalization among youth and women. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported in October that the Kyrgyz courts, in coordination with security agencies, blocked at least 64 websites and 233 social media accounts that were spreading “extremist material,” though a local NGO reported the government has blocked 359 websites, including relatively large domains. The Kyrgyz government cooperates with the UN, OSCE and other international organizations and foreign governments to facilitate CVE training and other CVE-related assistance programs.
UNODC continues to support the Kyrgyz Prison Service in the development of strategies to manage the spread of extremism among prisoners and prevent radicalization, in line with international norms. The UNODC is now implementing a program to prepare the Kyrgyz prison service for the eventual return of FTFs. The program will include training, security upgrades, and the implementation of internationally recognized best practices for the incarceration of terrorists.
International and Regional Cooperation: In 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic participated in a variety of CT activities and trainings organized by the U.S. government, UNODC, the OSCE, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), CIS, and SCO. The Kyrgyz military allocated the vast majority of its CT training resources to exercises dominated by Russia. The Kyrgyz Republic participated in seven international CT training events for military or law enforcement in 2019. These exercises included bilateral CT training exercises with Russia, India, Kazakhstan, and – for the first time ever for the Kyrgyz Republic – China. During the 2019 CIS Summit, the Kyrgyz president signed a cooperative agreement between CIS members to jointly combat terrorism, including through preventive measures for “countering extremism, radicalization of the population,” and financing terrorism, as well as involving civil society and mass media, holding special trainings, and the use of modern technologies for timely response to potential threats.