Tajikistan has pardoned more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said the returnees had been pardoned in line with a 2015 government pledge.
“Regarding the fate of 111 Tajik citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq voluntarily, all of them are free under Tajik law,” Rahimzoda said.
Most of the returnees in question had spent time in Syria.
Rahimzoda also told reporters that 250 citizens of Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country, had died in Iraq and Syria while fighting for radical groups, mostly Islamic State.
The interior ministry has said that at least 1,100 Tajik citizens, including women, had travelled to Iraq and Syria. Most travelled through Russia, where over a million Tajiks are believed to work.
Tajikistan changed the law in 2015 to allow authorities to issue pardons to those who return to the country after joining militant groups abroad and express regret. Authorities say the law only applies to people who have not taken part in violence.
Some returned to the Middle East
Last week, Qudratullo Nazarzoda, chief police officer of Sughd province, said that 34 people from the province who had returned from Syria and Iraq and were pardoned have returned to the middle East to rejoin ISIS, U.S.-funded Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service reported.
“We helped 72 people to return home to Sughd. Out of the 72 former fighters, 34 have gone back to those countries,” Nazarzoda said. “Others resumed normal, civilian life.”
ISIS “minister of war”
Gulmurod Khalimov, Islamic State’s most high-profile Tajik recruit, served as the chief of the interior ministry’s special forces unit prior to his defection in 2015.
Russia’s defence ministry said in September last year that Khalimov, who may have been ISIS “minister of war”, had been killed in an airstrike.
Rahimzoda said that Tajikistan was still verifying that report.
Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Afghanistan. Governments have warned that fighters returning to their home countries after the collapse of the Islamic State group could raise the terror threat there.
With reporting from AFP