Overview: The Kyrgyz Republic’s counterterrorism efforts continue to concentrate on rooting out “extremists,” CVE, limiting the flow of Kyrgyz FTFs, and preventing those returning from conflicts abroad from engaging in terrorist activities, by bolstering reintegration and rehabilitation efforts. Terrorist attacks in the country remain rare, but reports of terrorism-related arrests in 2020 underscore the potential threat. The Kyrgyz government restricts public information on national security issues, making it difficult to assess the efficacy of its CT operations and the 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. According to government statistics, some 850 Kyrgyz citizens have left the country to join ISIS or other terrorist groups, but the true number is likely higher. The government faces limitations on its ability to investigate, prosecute, and rehabilitate returning FTFs owing to a lack of expertise, resources, and potential shortcomings in the legal framework.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no significant changes to terrorism-related legislation in 2020. However, the penalty for “participation of a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic in armed conflicts or hostilities on the territory of a foreign state or for terrorist training” was increased from five years’ imprisonment to a maximum of seven years, six months. There were no reports in 2020 of the government using CT laws to prosecute political opponents, although human rights observers note that courts sometimes stretch the definition of “intent to distribute” violent extremist material in a way to circumvent the 2019 decriminalization of possession of such materials.
The Kyrgyz Republic does not currently issue biometric passports but took steps in 2020 to establish them and expects to begin issuance in 2021. The government is working with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism to acquire an API/PNR system for commercial flights. International organizations and Kyrgyz government officials have expressed concerns that the Prosecutor General’s Office and the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) lack the adequate tools and legal framework to properly prosecute citizens suspected of committing terrorist acts abroad. In November the State Border Service was moved under the control of the GKNB.
Authorities reported several “extremism” – or terrorism-related arrests in 2020, including of individuals accused of recruiting Kyrgyz citizens to fight in Syria. According to media reports, 44 people are currently in prison since voluntarily returning from fighting in Syria, although the Kyrgyz government has not repatriated any FTFs or family members to date. The GKNB arrested a Kyrgyz citizen on December 16 who had fought in Syria.
The Kyrgyz government made significant strides in regularly providing information to the U.S. government about Known or Suspected Terrorists and reporting lost and stolen travel documents to INTERPOL.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the EAG, and the State Financial Intelligence Service is a member of the Egmont Group. There were no significant changes to the Kyrgyz government’s efforts and capacity related to countering the financing of terrorism in 2020. From January through September, the Financial Intelligence Unit sent 47 investigative requests on money laundering and financing terrorism to law enforcement bodies.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Kyrgyz government’s national program and action plan on countering terrorism was in its third year of implementation in 2020. The government has done little to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment. Civil society organizations have expressed concerns that the government used the national program and action plan to muzzle free speech and to stigmatize members of ethnic minority groups. Human rights NGOs reported that security services used laws pertaining to so-called extremist materials on the internet to disproportionately target for prosecution ethnic Uzbeks, especially those who followed social media accounts focused on Islam.
The Ministry of Education, with the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), continues to implement a curriculum for high school-aged students on “moderate” Islam and to identify terrorist recruitment tactics. The Ministry of Interior and the SCRA, in cooperation with local religious leaders and civil society, host CVE roundtables and seminars and produce public awareness and countermessaging material distributed across a range of media platforms, with much of the attention on countering radicalization to violence among youth and women. The SCRA works with the United Nations Population Fund on a project focused on countering radicalization to violence and extremism. The project, which is being implemented in 11 madrassas, concentrates on civic education, the role of Islam in Kyrgyz society, and recognition of recruitment of religious youth by terrorist groups. The SCRA and Mutakalim, an organization focused on peace building through religious tolerance, started a program on the internet on recruitment, especially the recruitment of vulnerable youth. A local NGO reported the government has blocked 371 “extremist” websites, including relatively large domains. The Kyrgyz government cooperates with the United Nations, the OSCE, and other international organizations and foreign governments to facilitate CVE training and other CVE-related assistance programs.
UNODC continues to work with the prison administration to secure violent extremists, while developing a system to ensure they are not able to radicalize other inmates. This includes developing strategies to manage the spread of violent extremism among prisoners and radicalization to terrorism. The program includes training, security upgrades, and implementation of internationally recognized best practices for the incarceration of terrorists. The SCRA and various government ministries participated in a conference to learn from Kazakhstan’s experience of building rehabilitation and reintegration programs for women and children, to understand the challenges of repatriation and rehabilitation of returnees, and to develop recommendations for the prevention of violent extremism. Bishkek became the first Kyrgyz city to join the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Because of COVID-19, the Kyrgyz Republic was unable to participate in the usual slate of CT-related trainings. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia provided financial, organizational, and methodological assistance to law enforcement agencies in Central Asian countries including the Kyrgyz Republic, regularly conducting joint antiterrorist exercises, providing information on persons suspected of terrorism, and providing military technical assistance. Russia maintained a military base in the country. The Kyrgyz Republic, through the multilateral C5+1 framework, also participated and hosted a series of conferences on best practices for the return of FTFs and their families from Iraq and Syria.