On September 11, 2011, three lifelong friends—Brendan Mess, age 25, Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37—were brutally murdered in Mess’s apartment in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The graphic crime scene was discovered in the early afternoon of September 12, 2011, by Mess’s girlfriend, who ran screaming from the apartment. The victims had been dragged to three different rooms and killed there. Their bodies had multiple stab wounds; their throats were slit from ear to ear with such force that they were nearly decapitated, and their mutilated corpses were covered with drugs and money. In addition to the seven pounds of marijuana found on their bodies, $5,000 in cash was left at the scene. Two of the three victims were Jewish, and several sources have identified all three victims as such.
The men were described as having been physically strong: Mess was a mixed martial arts fighter, Weissman, a body builder, and Teken, a personal trainer. Their strength, the location of the bodies, and the forensic evidence led investigators to conclude that there had been more than one perpetrator at the scene. Additionally, two unidentified men had been seen at the apartment before the murders, and there was no evidence of forced entry, indicating that the offenders and victims probably knew each other, that the victims had let the killers in, and that the murders were not random. No motive was discovered, but because of the drugs and money found in the apartment and the fact that all three victims had a history of drug use or drug dealing, investigators logically presumed that the homicide was related to the drug trade.
The murder investigation went cold until the Boston marathon bombings of April 2013 when the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office began actively investigating connections between the crime and the Boston marathon bombing suspects, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. What was not immediately apparent is that the same jihadist motivations that impelled the brothers to murder innocent Americans on that April afternoon were the likely motives behind the Waltham murders.
Questions about Motive
Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died after a shootout with police, had several close connections to the case. One of the victims, Brendan Mess, was described as his best friend; they lived a few blocks from each other, were sparring partners where they spent hours training together, and went to fighting and social events together. Mess and Tsarnaev had once been roommates, and Tsarnaev had regularly visited Mess’s apartment where the murders took place. Tsarnaev was one of the last people to see Mess alive but neither attended his friend’s funeral nor his memorial service. A relative of Mess’s said that animosity had developed between the two friends “over Brendan’s lifestyle.” On May 10, 2013, news accounts reported that forensic evidence, including DNA from the Waltham crime scene, provided a match to the two Tsarnaev brothers and that records of cell phones used by the Tsarnaevs put them in the area of the murders on that date.
On May 22, 2013, a third person of interest in the murders, Ibragim Todashev, was fatally shot by an FBI agent in a Florida apartment while being interviewed in connection with the Boston marathon bombings and the Waltham homicides. Todashev, a 27-year-old Chechen native and former mixed martial arts fighter, knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev and was friendly with one of the Waltham victims when he lived in Allston, Massachusetts. During the interview, Todashev began writing a formal statement implicating both himself and Tsarnaev in the Waltham murders, but before signing the confession, he violently attacked an FBI agent who fired in self-defense, killing him. Reports asserted that Todashev had flipped over a table and threatened the agent with a metal pole or a ceremonial sword that had been hanging in his living room. It was also reported that Todashev confessed that the murders were the result of a drug robbery gone wrong. An official said, “So Tamerlan says they have dope; they rip them off. Tamerlan says, ‘They can identify me, so let’s kill them.’ And they kill them.”
Todashev’s confession is highly problematic. The claim that he and Tamerlan robbed the victims is not consistent with the money and drugs left at the scene. Additionally, Todashev did not provide an explanation for taking the time to pose the bodies by dragging them into three separate rooms and covering them with marijuana and money. In drug-related murders, victims are killed either because they broke the rules of the drug distribution gang, were informants, infringed on the territory of another drug dealer, or stole drugs, money, or other goods from the dealer or the customer. The victims often have a history or association with the drug trade such as an arrest record, a history of drug use, or association with other known drug offenders. The offender almost always will have a known association with the drug trade as a user, manufacturer, or distributor. Although the Waltham victims fit this profile—and it was the most conventional explanation for the murders—the inconsistencies are significant.
In a drug-related homicide, the crime scene is usually not staged to mask the true motive or misdirect the investigation, particularly because the intention is to send a message. Mexican drug trafficking cartels, which often mutilate, behead, and display dead bodies in humiliating positions, leave narco messages, and take credit for their kills. In addition, in most drug-related murders in the United States, the weapon of choice is a large caliber and semiautomatic firearm brought to the scene and removed by the offender. Experienced gang and homicide detectives find it highly unlikely that an offender in a drug crime would leave any monies or drugs at the scene, much less such a large amount, just to confuse investigators. Significantly, robbers do not take the time to drag three men into separate rooms and symbolically cover their bodies with drugs and pose their mutilated corpses.
It is more likely that Todashev told the investigators the murders were drug-related so as to avoid disclosing a terrorist conspiracy that could reveal other members in Chechnya or the United States.
Weaknesses in Law Enforcement Training
A triple murder, particularly one with ritual aspects, is rare in any city much less in a college town like Waltham. It is not difficult to understand why detectives were working on the premise that this crime was drug-related. Death investigation training typically covers homicide crime scenes that are characteristic of gangs, organized crime, domestic disputes, or property crimes such as robberies and burglaries. Although there is an abundance of terrorism training for law enforcement personnel, instruction usually focuses on threat response and mitigation, first response, physical security, infrastructure protection, and specific weapons detection such as bombs or weapons of mass destruction. Counterterrorism training may also provide extensive information on international terrorist groups, financing, operations, and threats to the homeland. However, there is nothing that prepares local detectives even to consider, much less know how to investigate, jihadist-related murders in the United States.
Most police officers are unaware that there even are jihadist-related homicides with similar patterns of specific ritualistic trauma in which perpetrators are Muslim and associated with Islamist ideologies. Particularly, knife wounds to the neck or complete beheading, overkill, and mutilation are indicators of Islamic murder, and there have been dozens of “honor” killings in the West with similar forensic profiles.
The most recent Islamist ritual murder occurred on May 22, 2013, in broad daylight on the streets of London when two jihadists used meat cleavers to publicly behead and disembowel a British soldier while shouting the Muslim declaration of faith, “Allahu Akbar.” Instead of leaving the scene, they wanted to make certain their attack was not misinterpreted, so one of the men asked bystanders to film him. Holding the murder weapon with bloody hands, one of the killers made it clear that the attack was in the cause of Islamic jihad: “We swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” The two offenders calmly waited for the police to arrive and then charged at them with a rusty revolver, knives, and meat cleavers. One of the men shot at the police, but the old gun backfired and blew his thumb off; seconds later they were shot and wounded by police marksmen.
Ritual murders appear to be the latest tactic in the war on terror, but they are not recognized as such in homicide investigations. There is no training in jihadist ritual murder and little to none in Islamist terrorist identifiers. Similar to gangs, however, Islamists have emblems, symbols, flags, graffiti, special clothing, hand signs, and expressions that are specific to particular groups as well as to the global jihadist movement. A further impediment to recognizing these connections is that, in 2010, the Obama administration scrubbed all Federal training materials of any references to jihad or Islamism as an underlying ideology motivating extremist attacks around the world because Muslim groups claimed such terminology and discussions were offensive.
Political correctness can be most clearly seen in the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual (CCM), the standard system for investigating and classifying homicides and other violent crimes. The CCM has categories for “Individual Extremist Religious Homicide” [127.02] and “Group Cause Religious Homicide” [142.02], which accurately describe the crime scene characteristics of the Waltham murders and correctly profile the offenders. However, although the manual correctly details the attributes of a religious extremist murder, it does not include any case studies of jihadist-motivated murder in either the individual or group categories. The manual does include case studies of cults, right- and left-wing ideologically inspired murders, and white and black supremacist-inspired murders but offers no examples of Islamist supremacist homicides. Furthermore, honor killings are not mentioned once in the entire 566-page CCM including in the category for domestic homicide.
New sections in the third edition include classifications for biological and chemical attacks, bioterrorism, hostage taking, bombs, explosives, and aerial hijackings, but there are only a few sentences that reference the 9/11 attacks or Islamic terrorist groups. “Islam” is only referred to twice in the entire manual, and curiously, in both instances, the references are in the section that is most applicable to the Waltham investigation.
The relevant passages in the CCM that offer defining characteristics for individual or group cause religious extremist homicide deserve extensive citation especially as they have direct bearing on the Waltham case:
Predominantly, the victim represents the antithesis of the offender’s system of beliefs; therefore, victimology depends on this doctrine. If multiple victims are involved, there will be similarities of race, religion, political beliefs, or social or economic status. … Those who carry out religion-inspired crimes concern themselves more with their deity than misleading law enforcement … Therefore … religion inspired crimes are not staged to appear like something else … The forensics often demonstrate the calling card or signature aspect of the group … In religions that encourage homicide, from violent cults to intolerant sects of Islam, proscription for homicide can be found in writings or preaching of spiritual leaders the assailant identifies with … Religious influence on a crime is reflected in religious symbols and messages at the crime scene. These may include artifacts left behind, religious references in notes, even corpse defacement … a religion-inspired killer adds his or her own sense of holiness to the scene rather than removing items from it. When a killing appears to have a ritualized quality without a sexualized aspect, religious motive needs to be considered … part of a religious ritual may mandate a specific weapon. Use of uncommon weapons, such as swords, warrant special consideration as to their relationship to religious symbolism.
These criteria suggest investigating a religious motive for the Waltham murders. Unfortunately, investigators focused on drugs as the commonality among the victims and either did not know that the victims were Jewish or did not understand those implications. It was also assumed that the crime scene was staged as a counter-forensic measure to mislead the investigation. The drugs on the body were interpreted as a way to confuse detectives and steer them away from investigating the crime as a drug-related burglary. Some officials uphold this theory arguing that more money and drugs were probably taken from the apartment while some were left behind. This theory may be based on a previous search of Weissman’s apartment where police seized more than $21,000 in cash and a wide assortment of drugs.
Specifically, detectives simply had no training to prepare them to recognize the neck trauma as a ritualistic act in keeping with Islamist ideology or to expect that jihadists would commemorate 9/11 with murders and not bombs. There may even be additional symbolic evidence that was initially overlooked or has not been made public such as defiling the victim’s Jewish head covering or stab wounds in the eye. Previous jihadist murders have included multiple victims, neck trauma, and “an eye for an eye” symbolic mutilation. If training materials had not been scrubbed of references to jihadist ideology, if the CCM had at least one Islamist example of “Group Religious Cause Homicide,” or if investigators were made aware of the signs of jihadist murder and allowed to investigate without the restraints of political correctness, then the numerous pieces of symbolic, forensic, and crime scene evidence found at the Waltham apartment may have led to Tamerlan Tsarnaev long before the Boston bombings.
Islamic Ritual Murder
An objective and unobstructed investigation that employs a symbolic analysis of the crime scene produces both an alternative profile of the offenders and motive for the Waltham murders. A symbolic anthropological analysis of a ritual murder interprets the significance of dates, times, places, body position, mutilation, cause of death, symbols, drawings, and other evidence at the crime scene in the context of the perpetrator’s cultural point of view. This analysis is different than typical criminal profiling in that it interprets the evidence and violent acts through the meanings that the offender assigns to them as opposed to examining evidence in terms of psychopathy and criminal personalities. This interpretive approach examines how offenders create meaning out of their own experiences by uncovering their cultural beliefs, worldviews, and motivations for violent acts. Many detectives instinctively use the same method, but to be fully effective, it is necessary for them to be aware of the method of operation (MO) and the signs and symbols of jihadist violence alongside those with which they are already familiar. Many European countries are now reexamining domestic violence murders in the context of “honor” killings. In a similar vein, cold case ritual homicides in the West need to be reexamined in the context of a jihadist MO. Unsolved murders that involve decapitation or stab or cut wounds to the neck or cases in which victims were associated with intra-Muslim controversies or allegations of blasphemy need to come under renewed scrutiny. Those crimes that occurred on a symbolic date or in a special place and involved unusual body positioning or other symbolic evidence should also be reconsidered.
A symbolic anthropological analysis of the Waltham crime scene in the context of jihadist ideology and propaganda as well as Chechen culture provides unique insights into why the Tsarnaev brothers and Ibragim Todashev likely ritually murdered three men, one of whom had been their friend.
The immediate and obvious symbolism was the date of the murders, the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Jihadists place tremendous significance on anniversaries and tend to commemorate successful battles against their enemies. On or near every anniversary of 9/11, al-Qaeda releases videos of the attacks on America to commemorate their “success.” Most recently, the violent demonstration held at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the fatal attack on U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya were undertaken on that date. Unfortunately, the date of the Waltham murders was originally thought to be September 12.
The fact that two, and probably all three men, were Jewish is another significant indicator. The Qur’an declares: “O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends!” (5:51). Many Islamist leaders view Jews and Christians as infidels and enemies of Islam who can justifiably be slaughtered.
Strewing the corpses with drugs and money is another highly symbolic indicator. This is so uncharacteristic of a drug-related homicide that the message should be plainly interpreted to mean that drugs and money were not the reason for the murder. It is more likely that the marijuana found on the bodies represented the victims’ transgressions—specifically the perceived impurity of drug use—and a sign of moral corruption and lack of discipline.
Desecration of the corpses is another method to reveal symbolically the alleged sins of the victims: Rapists are often castrated; snitches have their tongues cut out; thieves have hands cut off, and infidel enemies of Allah have their throats cut (“When you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads.” Qur’an 47:3). Psychologically, Tamerlan, who was already radicalized, may have still been attracted to the Western lifestyle and needed to eradicate the source of his own desires. Hence, the ritual execution would become in his eyes righteous slaughter, which removes the contagious impurity and seductive influence of unbelievers. This then is not the murder of personal enemies but rather a sacralized act of vengeance against the enemies of Allah.
In jihadist ritual murder, knives are the weapon of choice. The knife is reminiscent of the sword, a weapon that is a highly prominent symbol in warrior cultures in general and in Islam, in particular. The sword was the primary symbol of an Arab fighter until the introduction of the rifle and is a prominent symbol in the Qur’an. Qur’anic verses of war that sanction fighting against persecution are called the “sword verses.” The sword verses command Muslims to slay pagans, Jews, Christians, and Arab polytheists who fought against Muhammad. Islamist terrorists often cite the sword verses to legitimate unconditional warfare against unbelievers.
Cause of death from sharp cuts or knife wounds to the throat often involving near decapitation or complete beheading is also a forensic signature of the global jihadist. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; American civilians Nick Berg, Jack Hensley, and Eugene Armstrong; Kim Sun-il, South Korean; British engineer Kenneth Bigley; Shoshei Koda, Japanese; and American contractor Paul Marshall Johnson, Jr. are just a few of the many victims who were filmed being decapitated by jihadists. U.S. soldiers Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Thomas L. Tucker, 25, were beheaded and mutilated in Iraq, and dozens of civilian Muslims, Christians, including women and children, are beheaded by jihadists every year in the same manner as the Waltham murders. Smiting the necks of enemies is not only theologically sanctioned but has come to represent especially violent mujahideen. Brutal murders involving near or complete beheadings are highly respected by jihadists all over the world.
Videos and photos of such killings are modern day trophy heads, badges of honor that bestow heroic status on the killer and generate instant celebrity. Videotaped beheadings are one of the most successful types of Islamist propaganda with particular appeal to young Muslim men living in Western countries who view the violence as vengeance against perceived oppression of and offenses to Islam. Jihadists know that once their videos are uploaded, they will forever be enshrined on the Internet, which is why the recent London attackers wanted bystanders to videotape the violence. It would not be surprising if videos or photographs of the Waltham murders were taken and at some future point appear on jihadist websites. Islamists understand the symbolic power of mutilation. Beheadings function symbolically as sacrificial, initiation, and purification rites. Cleansing Islam of Western impurities and expelling unbelievers from Muslim holy lands is the ideological goal of Islamism. Ritually murdering enemies, either through beheading or suicide attacks, has an additional, personal function of expiating one’s own sins, paving the way to paradise.
There is good reason to presume that both Tsarnaev brothers and Todashev were familiar with beheadings as a jihadist MO. One of the most popular beheading videos on the Internet is the 1999 Dagestan massacre that depicts the beheading of six young Russian conscripts by Chechen mujahideen. It is brutal even for a beheading video and went viral on the Internet around 2007. In the video, one of the young soldiers begs the terrorists to have mercy on him after he witnessed three of his friends beheaded and one shot to death. While he is being stabbed in the neck and back prior to being decapitated, he calls out for his mother. The video is a “classic” among Chechen radicals, and the murders are uncannily similar to the Waltham crime scene, particularly the method in which the heads of the three victims were pulled back so that their throats could be slit from ear to ear. The Dagestan massacre beheading video could have easily served as a training manual for the Waltham murders. After the Boston bombings, one of the Waltham investigators commented that “their throats were slashed right out of an al-Qaeda training video.” With this in mind, investigators should compare the crime scene photos with the photos of the Dagestan victims and search all of the suspects’ computers for photos of them with their index fingers pointing heavenward. This is an al-Qaeda hand sign that is commonly used by jihadists, symbolizing their willingness to be killed, thereby attaining martyrdom and entry into paradise.
Most significantly, however, the Waltham murders should be viewed primarily as an initiation ritual. This was not a drug deal or burglary gone wrong: It was premeditated murder, an initiation rite that would have proved to other jihadists that Tamerlan, Dzhokhar, and Ibragim were ready for “martyrdom operations” and simultaneously demonstrated that they were not confidential informants. This initiation ritual is how the three radicalized Chechens may have earned their jihadist stripes and proved their loyalty and commitment to the global jihad. It also became the point of no return, the final commitment to a terrorist mission. The murders would have bestowed upon them the jihadist’s highest honor—to be dubbed “ash-shahid al-hai“—the living martyr, one who has irrevocably committed himself to dying for the cause of holy war.
If the Tsarnaevs were to have backed out of the Boston bombing, it would have meant a loss of face and status, and they would have been reduced to being merely cold-blooded murderers, instead of righteous holy warriors. Once Tamerlan realized he could get away with murder, he traveled to his Chechen homeland and started bomb-making training for his suicide mission. The Waltham murders likely gave the Tsarnaev brothers the confidence to carry out the Boston terrorist attack. Further, as soon-to-be shuhada, they would not be taken alive, explaining why both Tamerlan and Todashev provoked deadly force and why Dzhokhar chose to die slowly hiding in a boat as he looked forward to joining his brother in paradise.
Tribal Shame Cultures
The radicalization of the Tsarnaev brothers and Todashev needs to be understood in the context of tribal shame cultures. The men were all ethnic Chechens, a tribal society characterized by blood relations, common ancestry, unwavering loyalty, solidarity, conformity, and most significantly an “us versus them” philosophy. Chechens live by a code of honor and are willing to die and kill to preserve their way of life. Vengeance is required to reinstate and protect honor, purity, and territory. Most significantly vengeance justifies violence and regulates social order.
Unwavering family loyalty can be seen in the reactions of Tsarnaev’s and Todashev’s relatives, including their Muslim convert wives, who immediately and continually maintain that the young men were not responsible for any acts of murder or terrorism and had been set up. Past incidents also show how Tamerlan maintained his Chechen (and Islamist) behavioral norms by “protecting” the family honor: In May 2008, he beat up his brother-in-law after his sister Ailina complained that her husband had been cheating on her and beating her; the previous year, Tamerlan punched a Brazilian youth in the face for dating his younger sister, Bella, because he did not approve of his not being Muslim.
In Chechen Islamist tribal culture, honor determines status, respect, and reputation for the individual, family, and community and regulates every aspect of individual and group conduct. If one person is insulted, the entire family is injured; if one person is esteemed, the entire family is respected. Humiliation and honor are felt by all. Honor for men is signified by characteristics of courage, bravery, heroism, power, virility, and strength. Any sign of weakness in words or action is seen as relinquishing honor. It is not surprising that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Todashev chose to compete in macho warrior type athletics such as wrestling, boxing, and mixed martial arts.
One of the most significant differences between Islamists and Westerners is the distinction between what cultural anthropologists refer to as “shame cultures” and “guilt cultures.” A shame culture is defined as “a culture in which conformity of behavior is maintained through the individual’s fear of being shamed.” A shame culture puts high emphasis on preserving honor and on not being publicly disgraced. A guilt cultures is defined as “a culture in which conformity of behavior is maintained through the individual’s internalization of a moral code.” In shame societies, symbolic expressions ranging from simple mannerisms to acts of violence revolve around avoiding shame and acquiring or restoring honor. Status, appearances, reputation, and honor are more important than notions of right and wrong. In a guilt culture, a transgression is always felt as a wrong, or even a sin, whether others witnessed it or not. In a shame culture, if no one witnesses the transgression, it is not felt or perceived as wrong. Significantly, there is no concept of sin, hence no guilty conscience and no remorse for what Westerners perceive as wrongful acts, including murder. In fact, deception and pretense are acceptable in order to avoid shame and maintain face.
There are many indications that both Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev followed the Chechen Islamist tribal code of honor, which did not conform to American values, resulting in feelings of not being respected, which could only be alleviated through violence. Violence restored respect and was further proof of masculinity. The two macho fighters were largely supported by welfare and their Muslim convert wives while attempting to compete on the professional circuit. They were both hypersensitive to insult and responded to perceived slights with excessive violence. Tamerlan was arrested in July 2009 for aggravated domestic assault and battery for assaulting his girlfriend. There also were reports that he was abusive to his wife. Todashev was arrested on May 4, 2013, on a charge of aggravated battery causing great bodily harm after getting into a fight over a parking spot with a father and son at an Orlando shopping mall. The son was knocked unconscious and hospitalized with a split lip and several teeth knocked out. Todashev had been previously arrested in 2010 after a road rage incident. “Witnesses told police that he argued with two other drivers and cut them off with his vehicle. According to a police report, he yelled, ‘You say something about my mother, I will kill you.'” In Todashev’s worldview, this incident was more likely about protecting his mother’s honor than about road rage.
Todashev had a reputation as a hothead and had been kicked out of several gyms for getting into fights with people and was likely angry and frustrated. For him, the final humiliation was probably a knee injury sustained in a car accident in early 2013, which finished his professional mixed martial arts fighting career. For a Chechen warrior, such an injury would be a sign of weakness, a loss of strength and face. He may have attempted to restore his honor by killing an FBI agent. Similarly, the final humiliation for Tamerlan probably occurred when he was barred from boxing competitively at the national Tournament of Champions because he was not a U.S. citizen, despite having captured a second consecutive title as the Golden Gloves heavyweight champion of New England in 2010. Unable to compete and unable to save face, he would have seen murder and terrorism as a “heroic” way to restore honor.
For angry young Muslims who feel disrespected, the call to jihad is an opportunity to restore dignity, honor, and respect, and, most significantly, to alleviate feelings of humiliation and shame. Al-Qaeda intentionally recruits men engaged in a warrior ethos such as boxing, who are searching for a heroic cause and a sense of purpose. By supplying them with an ideology, weapons, training, and real life targets, their heroic warrior dreams can be fulfilled. Once they carry out a murder or bombing, they are rewarded with respect and praise. For example, the latest edition of the al-Qaeda online magazine Inspire devoted more than thirty pages to the April 15 marathon bombing, heaping praise on the bombers:
The Blessed Boston Bombings (BBB) have been an absolute success on all levels and domains … By tracking the course, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar—may Allah reward them—ran along April 15 until they crossed their own finish line … we can confidently say that the real worthy winners of the Boston Marathon were the Tsarnaev mujahideen brothers.
Murder in the cause of Islam is justified as sacred violence. Jihadist murder is a cleansing ritual that functions as expiation of individual shame and as a method to cleanse the impurity of the West. For frustrated young Muslims who may be ultra-sensitive to insult, exposure to Islamist messaging that reinforces their chronic feelings of disrespect by continually telling them they are being humiliated by Western infidels is a proven strategy for inciting violence. Killing in the cause of Islam restores respect, eliminates feelings of shame, and makes them feel both morally upright and good. Tamerlan and Ibragim were hypersensitive to feelings of shame evidenced by their conflicts with others, believing that others treated them with contempt or disdain even when they were not. Psychiatrist James Gilligan explains,
For such people, and they are the rule among the violent, even a minor sign of real or imagined disrespect can trigger a homicidal reaction. The purpose of violence is to force respect from other people … Furthermore, any experience that specifically intensifies feelings of shame simultaneously diminishes feelings of guilt and remorse …Violence from the point of view of those who engage in it does not intensify shame, it diminishes it and even reverses it into its opposite, namely, self-respect and respect from others.
Islamist propaganda is designed to convince believers that their honor has been disrespected, their prophet has been insulted, their territory has been occupied, their holy book has been defiled, and they have lost face. Symbols and loaded language are all calculated to trigger feelings of humiliation that can only be assuaged through violence. Exploitation of perceived desecration incidents is emphasized so that violence can be morally sanctioned as a defense of Islamic purity, which has been defiled, transforming murder into a sacred act. Purification through violence is a sacrificial ritual. Shedding blood, including one’s own, restores honor and washes away shame. Killing and dying for Islam is considered sacred, and sacred violence is always justified. However, the violence must be transformed into something sacred to distinguish it from profane barbarism. For that reason, jihadist ritual murder must include symbolic gestures such as shouting “Allahu Akbar” while killing someone or reading a list of offenses prior to murder or, as in the Waltham murders, leaving drugs on the body to attest to the sins of the victims. As a result, jihadists can commit unspeakable atrocities without remorse because they consider their deeds righteous slaughter in defense of the purity of Islam. Enemies are not people: They are unclean animals, pigs, monkeys, or dogs, dirt that must be cleansed. Beheadings, throat slitting, body mutilation, corpse desecration, eye gouging, and other unspeakable acts are not atrocities, but rather, they are sacred blood rituals that restore purity and cleanse shame. Sacred killing becomes an ecstatic spiritual experience. Murder feels good.
Dawn Perlmutter is director and founder of Symbol & Ritual Intelligence and a leading expert on religious terrorism and ritualistic crimes. She trains and advises law enforcement and defense agency personnel.
> The Forward (New York), Apr. 22, 2013; The Jewish Journal (Los Angeles), Apr. 23, 2013; Daniel Greenfield, “Did Boston Bomber Murder 3 Jewish Men on September 11?” FrontPage Magazine, Apr. 23, 2013.
 ABC News, Apr. 22, 2013.
 Ibid., May 10, 2013.
 The New York Times, May, 22, 2013.
 John Douglas, Ann W. Burgess, Allen G. Burgess, and Robert K. Ressler, Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes, Third Ed. (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2013), p. 143.
 Ibid., p. 144.
 Daniel Pipes, “Muslim Acts of Beheading in the West,” The Christian Post (Washington, D.C.), June 5, 2013.
 The Daily Mail (London), May 22, 2013.
 Fox News, Apr. 7, 2010; “Muslim Influence in Pentagon Prevails; Material on Radical Islam ‘Purged,’ Outstanding Army Officer ‘Disciplined,’ TMLC Enters Case,” Thomas More Law Center, Ann Arbor, Sept. 17, 2012.
 Douglas, et al, Crime Classification Manual, pp. 244-6, 273-5.
 Ibid., pp. 270-1, 245-6.
 See David Bukay, “Islam’s Hatred of the Non-Muslim,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2013, pp. 11-20.
 ABC News, Apr. 22, 2013.
 David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle, An Interpretation of the Arabs (New York: Ivan R. Dee, 2009), p. 22.
 Los Angeles Times, Apr. 28, 2013.
 Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle, pp. 36-7.
 Oxford Dictionaries Online, s.v. “shame culture.”
 Ibid., s.v. “guilt culture.”
 “Timeline: A Look at Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Past,” CNN, Apr. 22, 2013.
 The Daily Mail, Apr. 23, 2013.
 News 13 (Orlando), May 23, 2013.
 The Orlando Sentinel, May 22, 2013.
 ABC News, May 30, 2013.
 James Gilligan, Preventing Violence (New York : Thames and Hudson, 2001), pp. 35, 72, 73.
Impact of Terrorist Organizations in the Middle East
Terrorism is a significant variable in security studies and it is hindering a wide range of safety. Likewise, because of the emotional expansion in psychological militant assaults in the course of the most recent twenty years, have economies have found a way broad ways to work on the political, social, and financial circumstances by diminishing outer struggles and fear monger assaults.
The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) distinguishes psychological oppression as a danger or genuine utilization of illicit or vicious power by a non-administrative individual or gathering to accomplish a political, monetary, strict, or social objective through dread. This is on the grounds that these exercises are intended to make mental impacts and their belongings go past the survivors of fear-monger occurrences.
Definitions of terrorism are dubious because of issues of marking activities as psychological warfare advances the judgment of the entertainers, which might reflect philosophical or political predisposition. Definition of terrorism as characterized by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) is termed as “a non-state entertainer’s compromised or genuine use of unlawful authority and viciousness to attain a political, monetary, strict, or social purpose through dread, coercion, or scaring.” The people in issue, or the victims of fear-based oppression, have little in common with the fear-mongers, but they address a larger human population whose response the fear-mongers need. It is critical to comprehend that fear mongers are sane entertainers. They have a particular reason for their utilization of savagery and guess that it will make a response from the crowd that they are focusing on.
According to the GTD (2018), the Middle East has accumulated the greatest number of losses on the planet, notably since roughly 2001. Due to challenges such as high unemployment rates, money shortages, single-item financial elements, low levels of per capita payments, and slow monetary growth in the Middle East, these countries must rely on foreign speculation to beat these problems. Given the financial needs of these countries, bringing in an unfamiliar endeavour can play an important role. Differentiating the effects of capital flight and fear- based negative events in these countries might help policymakers improve or maintain business as usual.
In 2016, Iraq had 2,965 terrorist attacks, Afghanistan had 1,342, and Syria had 366. Conversely, there were 30 fear-monger assaults in all of Western Europe around the same time. However, the Global Terrorism Database notes that the number of fear-mongering attacks in Europe is increasing, the situation in the Middle East is far more concerning—a region where assaults are a piece of day-to-day existence for some residents.
The costs of psychological warfare, on the other hand, go far beyond literal annihilation. There are also significant social and financial consequences in the Middle East. ISIS has scoured a large number of historical heritage places in Iraq and Syria. Given their social and historical significance, the worth of many of these locations is incalculable. According to some sources, the sale of stolen antiques on the black market may be ISIS’ second-largest source of revenue, after oil. Some of these antique relics have been discovered in London’s antique shops. UNESCO has added a number of important locations to its list of endangered places due to pillage and obliteration, including six new sites in 2013.
The emotional drop-off in the travel business inside Syria and Iraq adds to these disasters. The Syrian Ministry of Tourism has attempted to aid the tourism business by distributing a series of YouTube recordings. The recordings show Syria’s recognisable blue waves and beautiful seashores, in an effort to rehabilitate a country that many associate solely with war atrocities. In 2011, just before the Syrian civil war reached its most destructive stage, 8.5 million tourists visited the country, contributing almost $8.3 billion to the economy (around 13.5 percent of Syria’s GDP). In 2014, however, only 400,000 tourists visited Syria. Several nations, including Tunisia and Egypt, have seen similar drops in the travel industry following psychological oppressor attacks, causing massive economic damage.
Oil is one of the Middle East’s most basic endeavours, and terrorism has a huge impact on it. Oil offices have been identified by psychological militants in a few Middle Eastern countries, causing supply shortages. Because of ISIS attacks, Iraqi oil production dropped by as much as 320,000 barrels per day at one time. Various oil offices are included in ISIS’ jurisdiction. The profits from oil sales go to the psychological militant group, diverting funds that would otherwise go to public foundation programmes. ISIS held 60% of Syria’s oil reserves in 2014, and the group made approximately $3 million per day from the illegal oil trade. Despite the fact that ISIS has recently lost a lot of territory, it still controls large wells in northern Iraq, preventing Baghdad from collecting much-needed cash.
Psychological oppression has a considerably greater impact on the Middle East’s economy than it does on the European economy. Given that the Middle East has seen the sharpest increase in illegal intimidation over the past 15 years, it appears to be a basic mistake that assessments have not attempted to gauge the absolute cost of psychological tyranny.
Organizations in Western nations which store these investigations are, maybe justifiably, more concerned about the impact of psychological persecution on their own countries. It is simple for the Western world to excuse the expense of psychological warfare in the Middle East since it is both far away and a piece of day-to-day existence for the area’s kin. Interestingly, demonstrations of terrorism in the West are considered perilous abnormalities.
While the actual effects of terrorism in the Middle East should be the primary focus of counterterrorism efforts, the financial consequences should not be disregarded. Estimating the cost of psychological warfare as a means of identifying knowledge gaps and obstacles has merit. Counterterrorism authorities should help alleviate the excessive financial repercussions that fanatic gatherings have on the Middle East by recognising and securing vital territorial income streams like the tourism industry and oil.
The Deadliest Enemies: China’s Overseas Military Bases in Central Asia and Uyghur’s Turkestan Islamic Party
Amid the burgeoning sentimental relationship between Beijing and the resurrected Taliban’s Emirate 2.0, the al Qaeda-affiliated Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) has aggravated its propaganda war against Communist China, hence cleverly concealing its historically faithful jihadi bonds with the Afghan Taliban. Despite the Taliban’s assurances of non-interference in China’s internal affairs, Beijing is building up its military presence in post-Soviet Central Asia. One example is its establishment of military bases in the Af-Pak-China-Tajik strategic arena near the isthmus of the Wakhan Corridor in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan province.
Although China did not camouflage its contentment with the failed US policy in Afghanistan and sought to leverage the Taliban victory as its foreign policy asset, Beijing has faced the Taliban’s elusive stance in curbing the Uyghur jihadists challenges. Today, the Celestial is well conscious of its harsh realities. With the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan, Beijing lost a safe buffer zone in the strategically critical Afghan-Chinese borders area in Badakhshan, which has afforded with free secure area for over 20 years. While the US’s presence in the region disturbed China, it nevertheless provided Beijing with relative stability and protected from the infiltration of global al Qaeda elements into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Therefore, by showcasing its concern over its instability in the neighboring country, Beijing prefers to pressure Taliban on security matters, claiming that Afghanistan should not become a safe haven for terrorist organizations such as the Turkestan Islamic Party. On October 25, during the bilateral meeting in Qatar’s Doha, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pressed Taliban’s Acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to make a clean break with Uyghur jihadists of TIP and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of global terrorism.
The Taliban’s Interim government is accustomed in responding to such external pressures from its neighbors and the international community. The typicality of its response lies in the denial of the presence of Central Asian and Uyghur terrorist groups on Afghan soil, further wittily dodging the topic of its ties with al Qaeda. Taliban strategists seeking international recognition have apparently developed cunning tactics to carefully conceal their ties to al Qaeda and Central Asian jihadi groups, while maintaining the bayat (oath of allegiance) of veteran strategic partners in holy jihad.
And this time, Taliban representative Suhail Shaheen voiced a stock answer, stating “many Uyghur fighters of TIP have left Afghanistan because the Taliban has categorically told them there is no place for anyone to use Afghan soil against other countries, including its neighboring countries.” But the Chinese authorities are well aware of the Taliban’s insincerity on this matter. In turn, the Taliban realized that the authorities of China and Central Asian states did not believe their statements. As a consequence, Beijing denied the Taliban’s claims, claiming that approximately 200-300 Uyghur militants of TIP currently live in the Takhar province near Baharak town.
Certainly, to calm Chinese concerns and encourage deeper economic cooperation with Beijing, the Taliban has removed TIP Uyghur jihadists from the 76-kilometer Afghan-China border area in Badakhshan to the eastern province of Nangarhar in early October. The Taliban’s double play testifies their walk on a fine line between pragmatism and jihadi ideology, especially when they simultaneously want to look like a state and maintain a historical relationship with al Qaeda.
A short look at Taliban-China relations
Since the mid-1990s, the Af-Pak border arena has remained at the center of China’s security and counter-terrorism strategy. Chinese policymakers were concerned that the TIP’s Uyghur militants found refuge in Afghanistan’s border region of Badakhshan and are waging a decades-old holy jihad to liberate Eastern Turkestan from the iron claw of Beijing. Within this framework, China’s counter-terrorism policy aims to prevent the challenge of the TIP Uyghur jihadists who have been deeply integrated into global al Qaeda’s structure over the past quarter-century. This undertaking surfaced on Beijing’s agenda since the collapse the pro-Moscow regime of Mohammad Najibullah in 1992 and became extremely acute after the Taliban’s lightning seizure of power in August 2021.
In order to break the long-standing and trusted jihadi ties between TIP and the Taliban, Beijing has emerged as a pragmatic backer of the Taliban’s new rule, promising economic and development support through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For its part, the Interim Afghan government, seeking international recognition, has called China a most important partner and pushed for deeper cooperation with Beijing.
Following the steps of its historical diplomacy of flexibility and pragmatism from the Qing dynasty, Beijing has forged a pragmatic and operative relationship with the Taliban for nearly thirty years. Since Taliban’s first rise to power in 1996, this pragmatic relationship has been centered in China’s counterterrorism strategy. Guided by the “Art of War” strategy of the ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, Beijing decided to “defeat the enemy without fighting”. In 1999, China launched flights between Kabul and Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur region, and established economic ties with the Taliban who patronized Uyghur militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM – now TIP).
In December 2000, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Lu Shulin met with the Taliban’s founder leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar, in which Lu voiced Beijing’s position on the need to stop harboring Uyghur jihadists operating in Afghanistan. Consecutively, the Taliban anticipated that China would recognize their government and prevent further UN sanctions. During the meeting, Mullah Omar assured Lu that the Taliban “will not allow any group to use its territory for any activities against China.” But this deal was only half materialized. While Omar did restrain Uyghur jihadists to attack China’s interests in Af-Pak zone, he did not expel them from Afghanistan. And Beijing did not oppose new UN sanctions against the Taliban, it only abstained.
Following the collapse of Mullah Omar’s so-called Sharia regime after 9/11, China did not sever its ties with the Taliban leaving room for strategic change in the future. Putting eggs in different baskets, in 2014-2020, China secretly hosted Taliban delegations in Beijing several times and provoked them to active struggle against foreign invaders for the liberation of the country. However, China’s central focus in their contacts with the Taliban has always been to curb the Uyghur jihad against the Celestial and build a first line of defense in the Wakhan Corridor along the Af-Pak-China-Tajik strategic arena.
Hence, according to China’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy, securing BRI strategic projects overseas from TIP attacks and blocking the Salafi-Jihadi ideology in Xinjiang became even more important for Beijing since the Taliban overtook the power. Counterterrorism and concerns of Islamic radicalization were the justification for China’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, where the CCP has imprisoned more than 1.5 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz Muslim minorities in concentration camps, manically depriving them of their religion, language and culture since 2014.
China’s military footprint in Central Asia
Predictably, the abrupt US withdrawal from Afghanistan encouraged Beijing to continue its aggressive and assertive foreign policy toward Central Asia to expand its BRI projects in the region. If before, in exchange for its economic assistance, Beijing demanded from Central Asian nations to adhere the “One-China policy” (recognition Taiwan as part of PRC) and support its war against “three evils” (separatism, religious extremism and international terrorism), then now it is also stepping up the military footprint in the region.
On October 27, the Tajik Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower house of parliament) approved China’s proposal to fund the construction of a $10 million military base in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province near the intersection of the Af-China-Tajik borders arena. The agreement which reached between Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and China’s Public Security Ministry, indicates the new base would be owned by the Rapid Reaction Group of the Interior Ministry.
This is not Beijing’s first overseas military base in Central Asia. China already operates a military base located 10 km from the Tajik-Afghan border and 25 km from the Tajik-Chinese border in the Tajikstan’s Gorny Badakhshan province on the isthmus of the Wakhan corridor. Thus, the Chinese base overlooks a crucial entry point from China into Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In accordance with secret agreements signed in 2015 or 2016 between China and Tajikistan, Beijing has built three commandant’s offices, five border outposts and a training center, and refurbished 30 guard posts on the Tajik side of the country’s border with Afghanistan.
In July 2021, the Tajik government offered to transfer complete control of this military base to Beijing and waive any future rent in exchange for military aid from China. The Chinese military base in Tajikistan has no regular troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but has representatives of the People’s Armed Police (PAP). It is worth pointing out that China, concerned about the activities of TIP’s militants in Xinjiang and their potential links with transnational terrorism, adopted the first counter-terrorism legislation on December 27, 2015. The law provides a legal basis for various counter-terrorism organs, including the PAP, empowering it with broad repressive functions. PAP members currently serve at China’s overseas military base in Tajikistan, the main function of which is counter-terrorism monitoring of Tajik-Af-Pak border movements.
It is imperative to note that China is concentrating its military facilities not in the depths of Tajik territory but precisely on the isthmus of the vital Wakhan corridor at the Af-Pak-China-Tajik borders intersection. In the mid-90s, Uyghur militants fled China’s brutal repression via the Wakhan corridor to join the Taliban, al Qaeda and TIP in Afghanistan. In their propaganda messages, TIP ideologists often mention the Wakhan Corridor as a “Nusrat (victory) trail” through which the “long-awaited liberation of East Turkestan from the Chinese infidels will come.”
The mastery of the Af-Pak-China-Tajik strategic arena is currently critical to Beijing for several reasons. First, the holding the Wakhan Gorge allows China not to depend solely on the will of the Taliban to prevent attacks by Uyghur jihadists of TIP. Secondly, it gives China an additional lever of pressure on the Taliban to sever their ties with Uyghur militants, playing on the contradictions between Tajikistan and the Afghan Interim government. And finally, Beijing is well positioned to protect its future investments in the Afghan economy through the BRI project.
China’s aggressive and assertive move into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence does not make the Kremlin nervous as much as the US military presence in the region. Quite possibly, China’s expansion of its military presence in Tajikistan was coordinated with Russia, which considers Central Asia to be its southern flank. Because Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are part of the Russian-led CSTO military alliance, opening a foreign military base in one of them requires the consent of this military block. Now, the two most considerable regional powers, Russia and China can be expected to pursue common counterterrorism strategies through the coordination and information-sharing on TIP Uyghur jihadists and Russian-speaking fighters based in Taliban-led Afghanistan.
Propaganda war between Communist China and Turkestan Islamic Party
As Beijing tries to fill the power vacuum left by the United States and expand its political and economic influence over the Afghan Taliban’s Interim Government, the veteran Uyghur jihadi group of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and newly emerged Katibat al-Ghuraba al-Turkestani (KGT) are respectively intensifying their ideological war against the China’s Communist regime.
The media center Islam Avazi (Voice of Islam), the TIP’s propaganda machine, systematically and vociferously criticizes the Chinese Communist government as “atheist occupiers” and “Chinese invaders” for occupying the lands of East Turkestan. Recently the TIP’s main mouthpiece in its weekly radio program on the Uyghur-language website ‘Muhsinlar’ stated that “China’s overseas military bases are evidence of its evil intentions to occupy new Islamic lands through creeping expansion.” Then the Uyghur speaker insists that “temporarily settling in new lands, the Chinese kafirs (disbeliever) will never leave there, a vivid example of which is the tragic experience of East Turkistan, whose religion, culture and history are Sinicized, and its titular Muslims are being brutally repressed.”
Our research indicates that despite their longstanding involvement in the global jihad in Afghanistan and Syria and their strong alliances through oaths of allegiance (bayat) with al Qaeda, Taliban and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the central ideology of Uyghur Jihadists is the fight against the Chinese Communist regime. The strategic goal of the Turkestan Islamic Party is to liberate the historical lands of East Turkestan, now known as Xinjiang, from the occupation of the Chinese “communist infidels” and to build its own state with Sharia rule there. In their regular statements, audios and videos, TIP propagandists raised the victimization of Uyghur Muslims during China’s occupation of East Turkistan, which has long been a key theme in TIP’s ideological doctrine.
Amid establishing Chinese overseas military bases in Central Asia, TIP’s media center Islam Avazi has sharply intensified anti-Beijing propaganda. Both the Taliban and TIP have double standards in this regard. Criticizing the Chinese Communist regime, TIP deliberately avoids and never condemns Taliban’s recent close ties with the China. At the same time, when the Taliban recently criticized New Delhi for persecuting Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir and call themselves defenders of the oppressed Muslim Ummah, they tried to sidestep the topic of China’s crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Future of Uyghur Jihad in Post-American Afghanistan
Thus, even though the TIP remains an essential player of global jihad and a vanguard for the Uyghur cause, China’s pressure on the Taliban and its military bases in Central Asia will force Uyghur fighters to curb their jihadi ambitions in post-American Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, as before, the Taliban will continue their attempts to marginalize Central Asian jihadi groups in Afghanistan, making them completely dependent on their will and exploiting them for their political purposes.
It is difficult to predict to what extent the Uyghur jihadists have the strength and patience to withstand Taliban moral pressure and Chinese intelligence persecution in the new Afghanistan. Interestingly, researchers at the Newlines Institute claim the Taliban’s collaboration with Chinese military advisers present in Afghanistan. According to a senior source within the Taliban, “some 40 advisers from China (including some military ones) deployed to Afghanistan on October 3.” Therefore, it will be difficult for TIP to maintain its developed propaganda apparatus, to enhance its organizational capabilities in the new realities of Afghanistan, when Chinese overseas military bases are breathing down its neck.
Beijing’s military footprint on the Af-Pak-China-Tajik border arena will force TIP to demonstrate its diplomatic and strategic ability in seeking support and solidarity from numerous umbrellas jihadi organizations such as al Qaeda, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s Haqqani network, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, HTS, and even Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K). Suppose al Qaeda continues to weaken, and IS-K grows stronger via targeted attacks and successful recruitment. In that case, Central Asian jihadists may change their jihadi flag and join IS-K. The most capable defectors from al Qaeda to ISIS were Uzbek, Tajik and Uyghur foreign fighters in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, as their experience has shown.
Any TIP’s move to take the jihad back to Xinjiang for its liberation, undoubtedly, will face steep odds. Beijing’s repressive security measures, such as high-tech mass surveillance and mass detention of Uyghurs in so-called re-education camps, have long deprived TIP of its network in Xinjiang. Worries that TIP is poised to ravage Xinjiang, therefore, seem overblown. With demographic changes in the Xinjiang region, where the Han population is almost the majority, the TIP has lost its social underpinning and perspective of waging jihad within the country.
In conclusion, wary of antagonizing Beijing and its dependence on Chinese economic largesse, the Taliban Interim government will progressively reduce its support for Uyghur jihadists. The establishment of Chinese military bases on the isthmus of the Wakhan Corridor and the strengthening of its anti-terrorism initiatives, combined with the monitoring of the Af-Pak-China-Tajik arena, call into question the extent to which TIP can conduct operations against China’s BRI.
Lastly, a rapprochement between China and the Taliban leaves TIP cornered, limiting room for maneuver and forcing some Uyghur Muhajireen (foreign fighters) to carry out a hijrah (migration) to Syria’s Idlib province to join their fellow tribesmen from Xinjiang. Nevertheless, despite this grim appraisal of TIP’s prospects in post-American Afghanistan, it can capitalize from its commitment to transnational jihad and expand its international network exploiting the Syrian melting pot. Indeed, given the physical remoteness from China’s overseas military bases, the Syrian quagmire will give the TIP a certain latitude, strengthening its ability to assert itself on the global jihad.
Author’s note: This article was first published by a SpecialEurasia Research Institute, which partners with Modern Diplomacy.
Can the Taliban tame ETIM?
The Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) is also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is a Uyghur Islamic extremist organization founded in the Xinjiang province of China. TIP is the new name, although China still calls it by the name ETIM and refuses to acknowledge it as TIP. The ETIM was founded in 1997 by Hasan Mahsum before being killed by a Pakistani army in 2003. Its stated aim is to establish an independent state called ‘East Turkestan’ replacing Xinjiang. The United States removed it from its list of terrorist Organizations in 2020. The group and its ties to Muslim fundamentalism have compounded Chinese concerns about the rising threat of terrorism within the country.
In Tianjin, the Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar again pledged to “never allow any force” to engage in acts detrimental to China. Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan Taliban’s spokesperson, said in an exclusive interview with the Global Times that many ETIM members had left Afghanistan because Taliban had categorically told them that Afghanistan can’t be used to launch attacks against other countries. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had also asked the Taliban to crack down on the ETIM, which is based out of the Xinjiang province. In view of the Taliban’s pro-China stance on the ETIM, the article will assess the feasibility of the Taliban’s promises of not providing sanctuaries to the groups which are direct threat to the national security of China.
First, this statement surprises the experts in view of the Taliban’s historic relationship with the ETIM. According to a recent United Nations Security Council report, ETIM has approximately 500 fighters in northern Afghanistan, mostly located in Badakhshan province, which adjoins Xinjiang in China via the narrow Wakhan Corridor. Most of Badakhshan is now under Taliban control, but according to some reports, Tajik, Uzbek, Uighur and Chechen fighters comprise the bulk of the local Taliban rank and file, rather than Pashtun fighters. This scenario appears very challenging for the top leadership of the Taliban to deny sanctuaries to such loyalists.
Second, ETIM is operating in Afghanistan since 1990. It has strong links with the local Taliban commanders. The local Taliban commanders may put pressure on the top leadership or hinder the extradition of ETIM members from Afghanistan. Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, thinks that ETIM members in Afghanistan still have some influence. It may not be easy for the Taliban to fully cut ties with all ETIM members in Afghanistan as it may hurt other military militants that used to support it.
Third, the Taliban’s capacity to tame the ETIM is limited because its all members and leadership have scattered across Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey. Zhang Jiadong, a professor with the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times, “In recent years, the ETIM also changed its living areas overseas. The exact number of ETIM members is hard to know but “its core members are living in countries including Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. More of them stay in Syria than in Afghanistan and have been keeping a low profile in recent years”.
Fourth, the ETIM has developed close ties with international militant organizations, including Al Qaeda. Moreover, Al Qaeda has significant influence over the Taliban. Al Qaeda has ability and resources to sabotage the extradition of ETIM members from Afghanistan. Some militant organizations including IS-K have developed the ideological differences with the Afghan Taliban. IS-K recently used a Uyghur fighter for suicide campaign in Afghanistan just to show fissure between the Taliban and ETIM. So, this trend can be a challenge for the Afghan Taliban.
The Taliban’s new stance of not providing sanctuaries to the ETIM contradicts with some of its founding principles. The Taliban’s new version on ETIM is not easy to follow. Time will be the true judge of the feasibility of Taliban’s new stance.
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