OMON Col. Gulmurod Khalimov Defects to IS

Gulmurod Khalimov, former commander of OMON.
Gulmurod Khalimov, former commander of OMON pictured aiming with a Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifle.

The US-trained former head of the Ministry of Interior special forces OMON units, Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, defected to the Islamic State. His intentions were published in a Youtube video.

Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov disappeared in late April, prompting a search by the Tajik police.

Khalimov, armed with a Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifle and a cartridge belt, vowed to bring Jihad to Russia and the United States in a professionally made video, available on social medias.

According to Reuters, Khalimov threatened Tajikistan’s President Imomal Rakhmon.

“Listen, you dogs, the president and ministers, if only you knew how many boys, our brothers are here, waiting and yearning to return to Tajikistan to re-establish sharia law there,” he said, addressing Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon.

OMON have yet to issue a statement condemning him for his defection to the Islamic State. However, such a statement is expected in the near future.

Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov received training by American Special Forces on many occasions. It is also possible that he received training from the former Blackwater firm. Reuters quoted Khalimov’s statement against the United States.

“Listen, you American pigs, I’ve been three times to America, and I saw how you train fighters to kill Muslims,” he said, patting his rifle. “God willing, I will come with this weapon to your cities, your homes, and we will kill you.”

The US State Department confirmed Khalimov’s presence in the United States.

“From 2003-2014 Colonel Khalimov participated in five counterterrorism training courses in the United States and in Tajikistan, through the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance program,” said spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala.

Gulmurod Khalimov also stated that he was trained by Russian Special Operations – Spetsnaz.

John Heathershaw, a political scientist who studies Islamic militancy in Tajikistan, said that the US counterterrorism efforts in Tajikistan is “likely to be counter-productive.”

By providing considerable military training to Tajikistan’s security services during the regime’s crackdown on the Islamic Revival Party [Kabiri’s party] and all unofficial public expressions of piety, the US Government has associated its counterterrorism efforts with this campaign…. [S]uch military assistance is likely to be counter-productive and should be stopped.

Despite Halimov’s testimony, it is unlikely that his claimed motivation [dissillusionment with Dushanbe’s repression of Islam] was the overwhelming cause of his defection. ‘Blowback’ does not refer to this kind of direct process but rather the counter-productive effect of fighting foreign wars via proxies, when an apparent ally turns his guns on his supposed friends. Halimov has now [become] the poster child for the folly of US military assistance in Central Asia.

Russian Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnov also wrote that Khalimov’s threats to the US are over exaggerated. However, threats issued to Russia are more serious.

It’s understandable that propaganda produced by ISIS can’t do without a threat against the U.S. in particular and Western democracy in general. It’s much more telling that in the video for the first time Russia is so openly and sharply blamed and that Tajik “brothers” working there should stop being “servants” of the Russians, and instead only “servants of Allah.” Colonel Khalimov called on his brothers to make a hijra [migration] to ISIS and start a jihad.

The former Tajik colonel, playing with his rifle against the background of a curved knife glistening in someone’s hands, addressed unbelievers, vowing to “return with these weapons to your cities,’ to “kill you.” From the context it’s clear — in Russian and American cities. And so we discover an unexpected argument in favor of cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the fight against ISIS…

According to the Kazakhstan-based Central Asia analyst Alexander Knyazev, the defection of Khalimov reveals that local authorities cannot be fully trusted if threats comes from insiders.

“I think Islamist propaganda will now exploit Khalimov’s example in full,” he said, warning that volatile neighboring Kyrgyzstan faced similar problems.

Gulmurod Khalimov’s motivation behind joining IS 

Did Khalimov’s decision to join the Islamic State (IS) has been motivated by religion or for his own personal interests?

Since Khalimov was in charge of the Tajik Special Forces, he had access to critical information. Information such as border security between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, military and police infrastructure and Tajik criminal activities, Khalimov could’ve been persuaded to join the Islamic State over a large sum of money or a promise of land and security.

This would definitely make him a very important asset for the IS, enabling him to gain power. This power could give him opportunities to create a solid smuggling network between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, resulting in a sharp increase of drug trafficking—mostly opium.

Khalimov would then establish a strong network between both countries, increasing his wealth and influence in the region.

It could be conceivable that through contacts, Khalimov could gain access to advance weaponry. Although the border guards are working with their Afghan counterparts and overseen by the  Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Khalimov’s prior experience with OMON could most likely enable him to corrupt a few border guards on both side and use them to move weapons through the borders.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, ISAF would transfer surplus weapons and equipment to Central Asia countries.

Moscow is said to be concerned with the fact that the weapons and military equipment, which are now in Afghanistan, will be transferred to Central Asia countries. According a military-diplomatic source in Russia, the subject of a transfer of surplus weapons from Afghanistan was discussed at the end of November with Tajik and Uzbek leaders during a visit to Dushanbe and Tashkent by US Army Lt. General Vincent Brooks. They discussed the transfer of unmanned lethal devices, digital radios, individual sets of equipment, GPS navigators, armored cars and vehicles, air defense systems, tanks and rocket-artillery systems, as well as small arms equipped with night vision scopes.

Khalimov was most likely aware of the transfer and could’ve ask for equipment to provide its troops with better gear, vehicles and weapons. This would also give a serious advantage to Khalimov’s defection.

On the other side, if he was indeed motivated by religion, Khalimov’s defection to the IS would raise questions on the propaganda made by the terrorist organization in Tajikistan.

It would also be a major recruiting win based on the rank and prestige Khalimov had while being the “enemy.” The IS would also use Khalimov’s defection as an example thus encouraging people from  different background to defect and provide valuable experience and information to the terrorist group.

The recent CSTO drills in Tajikistan could be linked to Khalimov’s defection to the Islamic State. The shared border with Afghanistan is more than 1,300 kilometers and is used by terrorists to cross between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Could Khalimov’s defection to the Islamic State become the first step of a closer cooperation between the United States and Russia when it comes to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in Central Asia?

Let us know what you think in the comment section below!

 

 

 

 

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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.