Col. Gulmurod Halimov served as commander of Tajikistan’s counter-terrorist police force OMON. He trained with Russian Spetznaz and American Special Forces in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the framework of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.
In April, the counter-terror expert suddenly disappeared, only to resurface on May 28 in a startling new guise.
In a 12-minute video, Halimov vowed to wage jihad against the Tajik government and ranted against its President Imomali Rahmon, the United States and other “enemies of ISIS.” He said Tajiks must stop working for Russian infidels, and join Islamic State to build shariah law in Muslim countries including their own.
(Tajikistan’s economy depends on remittances from nationals working in Russia.)
Former Col. Halimov is the highest ranking counter-terror official to defect to the Islamists in the last two years. With the skills he acquired in training for the job, he is well placed to impart to the approximately 500 Tajiks who joined ISIS, the tactics employed both by the Russians and the Americans to combat Islamist terror.
He is also an example of the high caliber of foreign terror and commando experts ISIS has been able to attract. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi draws on their expertise to pursue audacious and unexpected moves that keep his jihadis constantly one step ahead of the United States, its Western allies, and Middle East rulers, military chiefs and intelligence directors.
ISIS gains services of Iraqi generals plus cash flow
Halimov belongs to this small elite group. It operates alongside thousands of ex-Iraqi army officers, who held ranks ranging from lieutenant to general, in the late Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. Disbanding this army after the 2003 invasion was one of the worst mistakes in American military history.
While the hodgepodge of Shiite and Sunni militias and paramilitary groups fighting in Iraq and Syria has been extensively discussed, little notice has been taken of the most combat-seasoned Sunni group serving with ISIS: The Army of the Men of the Nashbandi Order, headed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam’s must trusted generals and the highest-ranking member of his regime to evade capture.
Its members are former Iraqi officers, kicked out by the Americans, who came together to fight the United States, along with an unknown number of underground Iraqi Baathist and Sufist military insurgency groups.
Al-Douri’s added value for Al-Baghdadi is the access he enjoys to the defunct Baathist regime’s bank accounts in different parts of the world, a trove worth tens of billions of dollars.
As fresh fighting men from Muslim communities around the world including the West, join up with ISIS at the estimated rate of 1,000 per month, the organization also commands a cash flow beyond the resources available to governments in Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus or Hizballah.
Nascent government institutions in caliphate
Western intelligence sources seriously underestimate total Islamist State manpower at no more than 25,000 to 30,000 fighting men. DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counter-terror sources make it more than double that figure – close to 70,000 to 80,000 and still counting.
The map attached to this article illustrates the extent of ISIS conquests – more than half of Syrian territory and 40 percent of Iraq.
In covering the Islamic State, most Western media have accentuated its extreme brutality, the hideous executions, hostage-taking and other heinous abuses. ISIS freely supplies them with graphic video representations. Much less is made of the subjugated peoples who collaborate with their abusers. They are often preferred to would-be saviors from the West, so that bit by bit, through the fire and misery of war, a form of governing institutions is rising and taking root in the areas occupied by the “Islamic caliphate.”
Alongside those institutions and terrorist forces, ISIS is establishing an economy which draws heavily on pirated natural resources, mainly oil and gas. (See the last DEBKA Weekly 664: The Islamists Cash in on Natural Resources in Looted Lands.)
Al Qaeda’s four increasingly pernicious eras
President Barack Obama likes to congratulate himself on ridding the world of the master terrorist Osama bin Laden in 2011. Only last year, he said that al Qaeda is consequently “on the run,” has been “decimated” or “on the path to defeat.”
But Al Qaeda did not stop in its tracks with the passing of OBL. It has moved on and evolved into new, increasingly pernicious shapes.
DEBKA Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts divide the group’s incarnations into four eras:
The First Era came to a close in 2001, after a decade of mega-terror acts orchestrated by Bin Laden which climaxed in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The Second Era was dominated by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his violent rampage in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, until the United States cut him down and disbanded his following – but not before his unbridled violence jad ground down the authority and prestige of Bin Laden’s successors. Ayman Al-Zuwahiri became a nonentity on the Islamist terrorist stage.
The Zarqawi legacy provided fertile ground for the rise of the contemporary Islamic Caliphate in a later era. The Third Era was a transitional period during which regional franchises took the stage – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda-Africa and other local terrorist groups claiming to be affiliates or representing the main organization.
Radical Muslims emboldened by rising Islamic Caliphate
Those groups continue to function but their impetus and influence are fading as more and more pledge allegiance to ISIS as their master.
The Fourth Era saw ISIS driving full speed ahead with the establishment in 2014 of the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and the Levant and conquest of large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria. Finally, radical Muslims saw the prospect of a Sunni Islamist state rising independently of any non-Muslim power and totally dedicated to merciless jihad to attain its goal. They witnessed mighty Western powers standing helpless for lack of military or ideological tools for contending with the fourth incarnation of Bin Laden’s progeny.
The only tactic offered by President Obama, to set the Iranian Shiites loose against ISIS, is seen as stoking its forward drive rather than defeating it.
Postscript: Iranian news sites ran with a story Wednesday, June 3, alleging that the same Tajk defector Gulmurod Halimov last week set up a meeting for US Secretary of State John Kerry with one of the leaders of the Islamic State. It was used, according to these reports, for an attempt to assassinate the Secretary, and his reported bicycle accident was an attempt to conceal his “grave injuries.” This story while not confirmed by any source has won wide circulation.