Established By: Renat Khabibuly, Orynbasarov Unasov, Damir Nabiyev;
Also Known As: Soldiers of the Caliphate, JaK;
Country Of Origin: Kazakhstan;
Operational Area: Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan;
Involved In: Assassinations, Armed Attacks, Suicide Bomb Attacks;
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Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate, JAK) was formed in mid-2011 by Kazakh citizens Renat Khabibuly, Orynbasarov Unasov, and Damir Nabiyev, and was headquartered in Pakistan’s tribal area. The group was dedicated to “waging a jihad on the territory of Kazakhstan.” At the end of November 2011, Kazakhstan banned Jund al-Khilafah as a terrorist organization.
Contrary to popular belief that Jund al-Khilafah emerged from nowhere, there were signs of Kazakh militant groups in the late 2000s operating with the Islamic Jihad Union and other North Caucasus insurgents. The Russian North Caucasus, which includes unstable regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya, is located is only 300 miles from Western Kazakhstan across the Caspian Sea. The flow of trade, militants, and Salafist ideology from the North Caucasus to Western Kazakhstan has been a cause for the spike in militancy in that region of Kazakhstan in recent years.
Jund al-Khilafa announced its formation in September and October 2011 by issuing a series of three videos of its members launching attacks against the United States in Khost, Afghanistan. For Jund al-Khilafa, attacking American troops in Afghanistan was very much its “rite of passage” to enter the community of militant groups, before Jund al-Khilafah later joined with al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Islamist violent extremism is a new development in Kazakh state-society relations. In contrast to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where violent Islamist extremism-both real and imagined-often defined the political environment, in Kazakhstan Islamism was thought to be a distant problem, if a problem at all.
The perception of Islamist militancy as being other countries’ problem suddenly disappeared in 2011. In May a suicide bomber injured three people outside Aktobe’s police headquarters. In July, one policeman and nine militants died in a gun battle in Kenkiyak, a village in northwest Kazakhstan. In November, a militant linked to the Islamist group, Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate), detonated two bombs in Atyrau.
And in December 2011, two policemen and five militants died in a firefight in Boraldai, a suburb of Almaty. Jund al-Khilafah again claimed responsibility for the attack, explaining that it was retribution for the government’s October adoption of a new religious law that strictly controls the registration and activities of religious organizations in Kazakhstan. This claim is consistent with what little information there is on this the militant organization.
Jund al-Khilafah, according to a report in The Times of Central Asia, is thought to have been created by a Kazakh from Atyrau who became radicalized when “denied permission by Kazakh authorities to study Islam in Saudi Arabia.” The Kazakh, along with “two companions from Atyrau then fled to the Afghanistan–Pakistan border region, where they established Jund al-Khilafah while maintaining networks with Salafists in Kazakhstan who could carry out attacks on the home front.”
Whereas in the past Islamist extremism in Kazakhstan was characterized by a handful of militants using Kazakhstan as a staging ground for attacks against other governments, the 2011 incidents of Islamist extremism appear to be the work of Kazakh Islamists working from safe havens abroad.
Jund al-Khilafah is thought to be based on the Afghan-Pakistan border and is also thought to have close ties with Islamist militants in the North Caucasus. And the North Caucasus more broadly, some Kazakh analysts believe, is attracting a new generation of Kazakh youth increasingly drawn to militant Islamism. Problematically for Kazakhstan, these militants do not seem content to remain abroad. In April 2012, 42 people were found guilty on terrorism charges related to the October 2011 Atyrau bombings.
When Mohammed Merah, a French citizen of North African descent, returned to France in early 2012, he carried out a series of murders of Jews and paratroopers of North African descent. After a manhunt, Merah was finally cornered by French security forces in his apartment. Merah had in fact trained with Jund al-Khilafah, which Merah likely perceived as al-Qaeda, because Jund al-Khilafa is in al-Qaeda’s broader network. Merah’s training with Jund al-Khilafa was documented by CNN’s Paul Cruickshank in “Investigations shed new light on Toulouse terrorist shootings.”
In December 2012, the deputy chairman of the National Security Committee, Kabdulkarim Abdikazymov, stated in a press conference that Jund al-Khilafah had won a considerable following inside of Kazakhstan and, as such, “poses a threat to the country’s security.” It should be stressed again, however, that comparatively little is known about Jund al-Khilafah and, other than Abdikazymov’s 2012 statement, there are too few definitive data points to confirm that this group indeed has established firm roots in Kazakhstan.