DUSHANBE, March 3, 2016, Asia-Plus /Avaz Yuldoshev/ -- The majority of Tajik nationals fighting alongside Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Iraq and Syria are followers of the Salafi movement, Tajik Prosecutor-General Yusuf Ahmadzod announced at a session of Majlisi Milli (Tajikistan’s upper house of parliament) on March 3.

According to him, the Salafi group today is the main force in Tajikistan supporting ISIL ideas.

“According to the latest data, 1,094 Tajik nationals have joined ISIL militants in Syria and Iraq,” said Tajik chief prosecutor.  “Last year, 94 Tajik nationals returned from Syria and Iraq, while 780 others were put on the wanted list.”

Ahmadzod says more than 85 percent of Tajik nationals fighting alongside illegal armed formations abroad are people who left the country seeking better employment opportunities.

“The coordination council of the country’s law enforcement agencies on countering terrorism and extremism was set up last year,” the prosecutor stressed.

The Salafi movement or Salafist movement is an ultra-conservative orthodox movement within Sunni Islam that references the doctrine known as Salafism.  The movement first appeared in Tajikistan in the early 2000s, having been brought back to the country by Tajiks that had taken refuge in Pakistan during the civil war.

The movement claims to follow a strict and pure form of Islam, but Tajik clerics say the Salafists’ radical stance is similar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Salafists do not recognize other branches of Islam, such as Shi''a and Sufism.  The movement is frequently referred to as Wahhabism, although Salafists reject this as derogatory.

The Tajik authorities banned Salafism as an illegal group on January 8, 2009, saying the Salafi movement represents a potential threat to national security and the Supreme Court added Salafists to its list of religious groups prohibited from operating in the country.

On December 8, 2014, the Supreme Court of Tajikistan formally labeled the banned Salafi group as an extremist organization.  The ruling reportedly followed a request submitted to the court by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.  The ruling means that the group’s website and printed materials are also banned.

The overwhelming majority of Tajiks are followers of the Hanafi madhab, a more liberal branch of Sunni Islam.