WASHINGTON — The State Department announced a $3 million reward in the U.S. effort to nab an American-trained Tajik special forces commander who now lends his skills to ISIS.
Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, a sniper who led a special paramilitary unit in Tajikistan’s Ministry of Interior, was named a specially designated terrorist by the State Department in September 2015 after appearing in an ISIS propaganda video — and a few months after the U.S. government acknowledged Khalimov was trained in part by 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,” spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala told CNN in May 2015.
The Tajik vowed in an ISIS video released that month, “God willing, we will find your towns, we will come to your homes, and we will kill you.” The commander of the elite police unit OMON (Special Purpose Mobility Unit) defected to the Islamic State in April 2015.
“Listen, you American pigs: I’ve been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims,” he said in Russian. “You taught your soldiers how to surround and attack, in order to exterminate Islam and Muslims.”
Khalimov said he took a U.S. course with contractor Blackwater. He also received training in Russia.
Interpol issued a red notice for Khalimov in June 2015, noting that the 41-year-old speaks English in addition to Russian and Tajik.
The State Department encouraged anyone with information on the Tajik’s whereabouts to contact the Rewards for Justice office via the website, [email protected], or at 1-800-877-3927.
According to the department’s 2015 terrorism report, 700 Tajiks had joined ISIS by the end of the year. That statistic pulls from Tajik government estimates.
“In addition, the government remained concerned that instability in neighboring Afghanistan would push violent extremist groups across the border into Tajikistan. In response, the Government of Tajikistan worked to strengthen its efforts to fight terrorism and radicalization, although its focus was almost entirely on law enforcement measures, with little attention given to countering violent extremism. Tajikistan sought to increase military and law enforcement capacity to conduct tactical operations through bilateral and multilateral assistance programs, including programs funded by the United States. The United States, Russia, Japan, and the EU also provided funding for border security programs,” said the report.
Tajikistan crafted a strategy to counter “violent extremism” by the end of last year, the State Department noted, but “some previous government measures designed to reduce the threat of violent extremism had a negative impact on religious and political freedoms.”
The country offered amnesty last year to terrorists who wanted to return home from Iraq and Syria. A few have taken Tajikistan up on the offer, including Farrukh Sharifov, who has since hit the lecture circuit to spread the message about the horrors of ISIS.
Fighters who want to return have been first screened through a Tajik government hotline called the Trust Line, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. “When a Tajik fighter calls from abroad and asks for help to come home, our officers and psychologists talk to them to identify the fighter and their intentions,” an operator said.