Connect with us

Terrorism

Recovery, Rehabilitation & Reintegration of the “Lost” Children Living and Serving Under the Islamic State

Published

on

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] H [/yt_dropcap]undreds of thousands of children around the world have been seduced and forced into being child soldiers and cadres in the service of armed and violent groups. Many have been successfully treated using a combination of individual, family and community interventions that relied on combinations of expressive, cognitive and behavioral therapies as well as play, song, art and dance mixed in with culturally indigenous cleansing and healing rituals. Is there a possibility of the same for the children of ISIS— the Iraqi and Syrian boys and girls seduced and forced into slavery and violence; raped; beaten and tricked into serving the brutal non-Islamic State? 

We are in a prison just outside of Suliamania trying to find out. The first boy we talk to, sixteen-year-old Nabil, is brought into the interrogation room in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of Guantanamo Bay. His eyes and face are covered in a black mask and his hands shackled in metal cuffs. When the prison guard uncovers his eyes, I explain our purpose and ensure he’s speaking freely. Then in response to gentle questions, Nabil begins to open up to tell us how he happened to join ISIS.  

“There were two mullahs in the mosque. When the Islamic State came to our village, the older guys in the mosque started convincing kids to join. They started talking about money and cars. They told us, ‘This is a good thing to do. You are going to be really comfortable.’” 

The mullah himself drove Nabil to the neighboring village where he underwent ISIS shariah and weapons training and gave his bayat (pledge of allegiance) to the most nefarious terrorist group of our day. “I spent a month in shariah training,” Nabil explains referring to ISIS’s practice of indoctrinating all their new cadres into Islamic law as interpreted by ISIS. He denies that kids had to kill a prisoner upon graduation as we’ve heard from those who took their training in Syrian camps.[1] Although he does recall, “A guy my age killed four of our relatives.  He was from Mosul.”

The middle child of a family of seven kids, Nabil keenly missed his father who had travelled out of ISIS territory to try to get his pay as a policeman.  Salaries were no longer being paid in ISIS territory. “There was no way to get paid so he went to Kirkuk to collect his salary, but he couldn’t get back. We had no money.” 

 “I was away from my father. They played with my mind,” Nabil explains, his voice fills with bitterness recalling how he got sucked into serving the Islamic State. Nabil’s mother and older brother fought with him, ultimately kicking him out of the house when he told them he was going to join. Unfortunately this move to protect him simply propelled Nabil into the home of the mullah who eventually literally drove him into the arms of ISIS, delivering him by car to their training camp. “They trained us on weapons, shariah, verses of the Prophet, women—what they are allowed to do and not. They focused on that women need to dress like this and told us,

‘If not, we might hurt her—but we are going to hurt her family members more. A married guy who cheats on his wife, we stone him to death. An unmarried man who is caught in an affair, we flog him.’” Nabil recites the horrific list of ISIS’s rules and punishments while puffing on a thin cigarette handed to him by his prison handler, smiling jauntily when he admits that he smoked even while inside ISIS—when no one was looking. 

“I was terrified in the beginning,” Nabil admits. I ask if he liked his shariah trainer. Syrian cadres reported that their ISIS shariah trainers were very charismatic and knowledgeable, brought in from the Emirates, Jordan and Saudi, often describing them as shining and filled with a religious charisma that made them able to easily persuade their future cadres into suicide missions.[2] Not so in Iraq. “Till the time he got killed he was a monster; till he got killed no one liked him.” 

Nabil trained on the AK 47 and was assigned to the infantry. He remembers, “In the beginning the food was good.” Nabil was sixteen when he joined, but there were six or seven kids as young as fourteen who trained with him in the camp.  

Nabil spent four months serving ISIS, in which he took part in three battles against the Pershmerga. “There were three lines,” he recalls of those battles. “I never went to the first line, the older, more experienced fighters went first.” When asked for more details, he admits that the first line, just as we heard in Syria, were suicide soldiers, wearing vests to detonate if they were about to be captured—fighting to the death.[3] “Yes, they always got killed. The front lines carried guns and went in on foot and they wore suicide vests. If he doesn’t get killed, he will detonate himself.”

Nabil is a clever boy. Once in prison, still horribly missing his father, Nabil accused his father of being a member of ISIS and thereby tricked the Kurdish security officials into bringing him in for interrogation—a jubilant event for Nabil who joyfully reunited with his innocent, former policeman father. “I cannot live without my Dad. It’s been two years since I saw him,” the boy admits sheepishly—a big, irrepressible grin plastered across his face. The Kurds released Nabil’s father when they realized the trick and now his Kurdish prison handler gently ribs Nabil about it.  I watch the good rapport with this child who doesn’t appear afraid of the prison handler at all—rapport necessary for him to begin rehabilitating here, even inside the prison, something the Kurds tell me they want to attempt with kids like Nabil.

It’s March of 2017 and I am in Iraq with our International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) research director[4] in response to a request by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi to advise on how to deal with children who lived and served under ISIS. There are 300,000 children, many finally being liberated, who have been taught under the brutal ISIS curriculum, learning topics about who and how to behead, while others have actually served as ISIS cadres, forced to take the lives of others in the most ruthless ways. Tough questions are posed in the Prime Minister’s conference about if such children can be recovered, rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, or is this a lost generation that either needs to be captured or killed?  Some say they should be punished; others that they need to be isolated so they don’t contaminate the rest.

When I ask Nabil about his future possibilities of reintegration—if his parents can forgive him for serving ISIS, Nabil replies, “A father will not hold anything against his son no matter what.” His smile is big as he tells me this confidently, but his face clouds over and becomes very serious when I ask about his mother. “My mother will forgive,” he assures, but seems less sure.  His brother and mother kicked him out of the family home when he told them his plans to join ISIS. But later Nabil helped his family to escape out of ISIS territory into the refugee camp in Kirkuk. “When I last saw her—when I looked at her—I don’t think she holds anything against me,” Nabil states. “I saw her in the morning before I was arrested,” he explains of their time together in the refugee camp in Kirkuk.

Nabil got paid $100 a month in ISIS, money he spent recklessly, like any young boy, “I spent it on myself. I bought a motorcycle.” His boyish adventures however were short- lived and quickly disillusioned by the brutality of the group. “I wanted to leave when I started to see the killings,” Nabil admits. “I knew they were doing wrong things,” he explains, referring to the executions of those punished for minor infractions of ISIS laws, although there is not time today for him to share his memories of all he saw.  

Nabil begin to look for ways to escape. “I was always thinking of a way to take my family and cross back into Kirkuk,” he recalls, although his first attempt to escape was on his own. “The first time I ran away, I got captured by ISIS. They whipped me 35 times and told me I had to go back to my post. ‘Do your duties,’ they warned. 

Nabil was lucky—others we’ve heard about who were caught trying to escape were beheaded on the spot. “I had a friend with me [in ISIS],” Nabil recalls. “He knew the roads of the mountains. My friend didn’t know that I wanted to run away. He told me the route, about the road that had no IEDs.” 

For his second attempt to escape Nabil went home to gather his brother, sister, mother and some other close relatives. “I came home and talked to my family telling them, ‘I want to take you to Kirkuk.’ I talked to them and then went back to my duties. I knew the timing to cross. The second time we made it.” 

I turn the interview to the possibilities of his future, if he’s to be released. “I want to see my mom first thing,” Nabil answers, wistfully. “She’s in Kirkuk. That’s my only wish in the world. I don’t care if I die. That’s the only thing I want.” 

Strong words for a young kid. When asked if he can back to the family home, he explains, “I have to live in Kirkuk with them [my family]. I have nowhere else to go. If I leave from here [Kirkuk area], I know I will get killed for sure. This is the fate of anyone who works with them.” 

“Nabil is terrified, afraid of everyone,” his prison handler explains. Indeed there are many who want to revenge on former ISIS cadres and ISIS also kills those who have defected—if they can.  Among the other forty-four defectors ICSVE staff have interviewed thus far we’ve heard too many stories of defectors being caught and beheaded on the spot.

 “I know you’ve gone missing. Our people in Kirkuk are going to kill you,” the mullah said over the phone to Nabil when he arrived in the refugee camp. “If you are not going to work for us—if you are not going to be a sleeper cell in Kirkuk, our people will kill you,” he threatened the boy. 

“As soon as I got in the refugee camp. Mullah Omar was the one calling,” Nabil explains dully. Constant terror has that effect—a need to dull the senses, go “dissociative” and feel nothing but hopeless depression. Dulling ones senses can provide a brief refuge at least from a too painful life.

When I ask Nabil if he told his parents about the mullah telephoning him, Nabil shakes his head no and his eyes widen as he explains, “Because my father was a policeman, I was scared for him.” He continues monotonously again, “I don’t know, only Allah can protect me. I must die.”  

Nabil’s already got the sense of a foreshortened future, that trauma survivors that kids and adults often feel after surviving a trauma they can’t get over. Nabil has the posttraumatic sense of being damned from the bright future with which he started his childhood.

I ask if the government can provide protection for him as he nods despondently, but then negates his nod by saying, “If I get released from here [prison], another unit will take me and kill me. They won’t be like the Persmerga. I’m afraid of anyone who has lost someone. The Spiecher [military] Base lost 2000 soldiers…It can be anyone with a desire for revenge,” he says referring to the ISIS massacre of Shia soldiers at the captured military base in Tikrit. Nabil admits having crossed into Kirkuk because, “I knew the Kurds are more easy going. I knew for sure I’m going to get captured, but in Shia areas, I’ll get killed right away.”

What can we do for this boy? He should be in school, but he can’t go home—ISIS still controls the territory he’s from. If he’s released, he’ll go to a refugee camp where there are some studies offered, but not much, and everyone surrounding him is traumatized and angry at ISIS.  The security forces acknowledge that there are ISIS recruiters and cadres in the camp.  We have evidence that in Syrian and Turkish camps kids get recruited into ISIS right in the camps.[5] It won’t be safe for him. His family may forgive him, but family members of those who were raped, kidnapped and killed won’t be so forgiving. 

And what about his release? Surely those who hold him will want kids like him to help them rat out the ISIS guys in the camp. He can be useful as an informant—if he can be trusted.

It’s all too much for a young kid. Psychologically, he’s terrified. Perhaps guilty for what he’s taken part in. He’s sure his life will end badly, and yearns badly for his parents’ love, protection, acceptance and shelter. Nabil is a lost boy and needs help. If he manages to reunite with his parents, they can love and forgive him, but can they protect him from the wider community’s stigma and punishment? 

The government may be able to offer him some limited protection but may insist that  he pays for it by turning informant as together they route out the scourge that poisoned  his life—but that too involves dangers and possible additional stigma in the end.  

And release may also go another way. Can an ISIS recruiter still manipulate him? Inside the prison there’s an older ISIS emir—Abu Islam—that prison officials tell me is capable of talking any of the others into the glorious wonders of taking a “martyrdom” mission.  As a result, the prison guards keep him isolated from the others. Suicide could be a way out for Nabil—instant forgiveness if he buys the lies of the ISIS “martyrdom” myth, release from constant terror, and a way to strike out—perhaps at someone that a recruiter can convince him is the reason for his lost and stolen childhood? Palestinians told me taking a suicide mission wasn’t that hard when you have to dull your senses to endure the traumas you’ve lived through—when you feel that you are already dead.  Nabil is showing some of those features.

No one wants it to end that way. But as long as political grievances leading to Islamic State’s rise remain in place, as long as security and justice are not delivered to everyone in Iraq regardless of religion and sect, and as long as there’s no safe way to return home or some kind of amnesty offered—at least to kids who were tricked into ISIS ranks, like Nabil was—the Iraqi authorities will either have to keep them locked up or release them back into society while holding eyes shut tight. In that scenario they’ll be hoping for the best, knowing it’s not likely to turn out well. 

Today, the Iraqi Prime Minister wants to make a plan for kids who lived and served under ISIS—and he’s right to want it. But it’s got to start soon and it’s got to be good— involving schooling, amnesty, and strong psychosocial support for teachers, parents and communities to accept these kids back into society. It will need to involve careful and caring treatment and redirection for the kids themselves as well as for their families and communities so they can be saved from all they’ve learned and trained into and to also avoid their becoming the next iteration of something like ISIS, in a world gone mad.


[1] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118.

[2] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118.

[3] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015). Eyewitness accounts from recent defectors from Islamic State: Why they joined, what they saw, why they quit. Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 95-118.

[4] Thanks to ICSVE Research Director Ardian Shajkovci for accompanying me in these research interviews in Iraq and elsewhere.

[5] Crozier, R. (May 11, 2016). Why young Syrians are joining ISIS. Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/religion-not-main-motivator-young-syrians-isis-458653 Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/religion-not-main-motivator-young-syrians-isis-458653 and Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.; Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (December 2015).

Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne (March 29, 2017) Recovery, Rehabilitation &Reintegration of the “Lost” Children Living and Serving Under the Islamic State ICSVE Brief Reports  http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/recovery-rehabilitation- reintegration-of-the-lost-children-living-and-serving-under-the-islamic-state/

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Continue Reading
Comments

Terrorism

Can the Taliban tame ETIM?

Published

on

Uighur jihadists of Turkestan Islamic Party

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.

Continue Reading

Terrorism

The heartwarming story of Uighur jihadists

Published

on

In the wake of 9/11, the US government scooped up all the terrorist networks and made an assessment of which ones were a threat to America. The prisoners held in Guantanamo were of the jihadist Islamic militant type. It’s not like the US government, in order to help other governments, filled Guantanamo with random, latent secessionist movements from around the world – Quebec, Catalonia, the IRA in Ireland, or the Tigray in Ethiopia. You wouldn’t find any of them in Guantanamo. The Guantanamo profile was clearly that of the Islamic militant jihadist that poses a threat to America.

Guantanamo was not a charity project where governments from around the world could dump and keep their separatists. There was a shared counter-terrorism interest between the United States and China, specifically in the area of combating Uighur jihadists, and that’s not a story that can be erased.

There were 22 Uighur jihadists held in Guantanamo, in total. Uighur jihadists were and still are the China-oriented spinoff of Al-Qaeda. Their organization, the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) was formally listed as a terrorist organization by the US Treasury Department and the US State Department during the war on terror. ETIM is still on the UN Security Council’s list of sanctioned for terrorism entities. The Uighur jihadists stayed on the Security Council’s list after a recent review of their status was completed in November, 2020. ETIM is also a part of the UN report on the status of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Very recently, in July 2021, the UN said that the Uighur jihadists group ETIM has several hundred fighters in Afghanistan on the border with China, and that they are affiliated with Al-Qaeda, even though the US government de-listed them from its terrorist organizations list in 2020 and has argued that they no longer exist. This was a purely political move by the US government that does not reflect the reality on the ground, and signifies a shift that the American public is expected to follow.

Just after 9/11, in 2002, Uighur jihadists plotted a terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. At the time, the Washington Post said: “The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said today there is evidence that an obscure Muslim organization fighting Chinese rule in the western province of Xinjiang has been planning a terrorist strike against the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan”. That marked the first time China and the US shared a common terrorist enemy. That same year, the same terrorist group (ETIM) shot dead a Chinese diplomat in the same city. 

The Uighur jihadists threatened the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; they are responsible for political assassinations, bombings and wide-spread, clear-cut terrorism of substantial scale. Uighur jihadists perpetrated a terrorist attack in Thailand in 2015, killing 20 people in a tourist resort. The same group of Uighur jihadists successfully carried out a suicide car-bomb attack on the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan in 2016, 14 years after the US Embassy there shared the same risk. You didn’t hear about more plots against America by the Uighur jihadists because the US government went after them right away: some went to Guantanamo; others were scattered.

The US State Department reported in 2002 that ETIM was a terrorist organization with over 200 acts of terrorism committed in the 1990s. China did not start making things up only after 9/11, just to fit in the US counter-terrorism narratives and priorities in order to get rid of uncomfortable critics of the regime. China was already experiencing a big, very real terrorism threat of the same kind the US faced in the 2000s. It was the same enemy.

Something as big as a terrorism plot against a US Embassy would have definitely counted in a time when even borrowing the Quran from a library was followed. If put through the ordinary legal system, a foiled plot on a US embassy could give you 15-20 years in jail or less, and then you’d be out, or maybe you would just walk if the judge didn’t like the source of the evidence. If you were “only” training with Al Qaeda and Bin Laden without an actual plot, that would also give you only several years in jail, or no jail time at all, if the judge didn’t like the source of the evidence. That’s the kind of things Guantanamo was created to prevent: a place to keep “the worst of the worst” where the US government didn’t have to think about the regular legal system. Current Attorney General, Merrick Garland, in fact, was one of those judges back in the days of the Guantanamo court wars, who ruled to release Uighur jihadists on the basis of over-reliance on evidence from the Chinese government. If the Chinese are saying it, they can’t be terrorists, was the argument there, so they had to be released. With the parents-as-terrorists DOJ memo by Garland and the recent confirmation that the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit indeed puts red flags on parents as potential terrorists in 2021, one has to be reminded that Garland rarely gets it right in the area of terrorism. More often than not, it’s exactly the other way around. Jihadists can leave, parents can come in.

There is an attempt right now to reverse the narrative of the Uighur jihadists, and the audience is the American public. That push is relatively new and emerged in the US mainstream media only over the past 1-2 years, in parallel with the narrative of the Uighur genocide committed by China. The reason is simple: you can’t have it both ways. Americans can’t feel compassion for the Uighurs and hate China, if they are constantly reminded the uncomfortable facts that the Uighur jihadists were actually together with Bin Laden in Tora Bora, they lived in a village provided by Al Qaeda and trained in weapons and terrorism tactics for Bin Laden. It’s just that their direction was different: mostly against China. They ran away together from the American bombardments of Al Qaeda in Tora Bora. They were sought after by the Americans, the same way the Americans searched for Bin Laden for 10 years. There was bounty on their heads. 22 Uighurs were held in Guantanamo for many years and were released only after a decade. In Guantanamo, Uighurs confessed right away to their activities and their links to Al Qaeda. The ETIM was listed as a terrorist organization by the US government in 2002, after the US government reviewed several organizations proposed for terrorism listing by the Chinese government, and concluded there was evidence only for them, dismissing the other organizations proposed by the Chinese. The US government wasn’t indiscriminately accepting requests by countries to help them with their problematic groups. Just after 9/11, in 2002 the group organized the plot against the US Embassy. The plot was foiled.

When the facts are so damning, the US mainstream media certainly has a problem. These facts show that China was not just making it up, looking for ways to exploit the US counter-terrorism mania of the 2000s when everything was about the war on terror and, in the haste, the US government could have been easily misled. The Uighurs as jihadists presents a very clear challenge to the spin factory of the liberal media right now. The attempt to reverse the narrative of the Uighurs as jihadists over the past 1-2 years takes the nuanced analysis angle to the level of parody. I’ll walk you through some of it.

A recent CNN investigation claims that the Uighurs jihadists held in Guantanamo were mostly economic migrants who left China in a search of a better life and they had nowhere else to go but Bin Laden’s Tora Bora. They have no idea how they found themselves in the Al Qaeda village, they were in the wrong place, at the wrong time. They were not aware of what Bin Laden was doing. Now, years after leaving Guantanamo, they are just men looking for love and family. The CNN story is that the Uighur jihadists were never really terrorists, just “dreamers” with guns. They used weapons only because that was the cultural tradition in the mountains – not as terrorists or something. The terrorist training camps in Tora Bora under the umbrella of Al Qaeda and bin Laden was not actually terrorism training, they were using weapons only casually, not in a determined way. The Uighur jihadists didn’t join Bin Laden as terrorists; it’s just that there was nowhere else to go. When the American bombardments of Tora Bora started, it was very scary for them. They ran around the caves looking for food like refugees. When they were captured by the Americans in Pakistan, they felt “cheated” and tricked. How could they do this to them? That wasn’t nice of the Pakistanis at all. Their dreams were shattered after all the suffering experienced in running away from the Americans bombardments. Actually, going to America and Guantanamo was better than going back to China for them. They were impressed with the level of cultural awareness demonstrated by the Americans in Guantanamo that surprised the Chinese that visited Guantanamo. To you and me, from the point of view of our standards, it could look like the American government was torturing in Guantanamo, but the Uighur jihadists really preferred the American prisons to ordinary life in China, despite “some mistakes” on the part of the Guantanamo management. The narrative is mind-boggling and you wonder how the American public can stomach that at all.

It gets better. At Atlantic story of the same kind claims that the fact that the Uighur jihadists told the US government right away what they were doing, stated their affiliation with Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, and explained their terrorism training activities, meant that they can’t really be terrorists, if they weren’t trying to hide it. If what they themselves confessed was so damning, then they couldn’t have been terrorists, and that had to be excluded from the evidence. It was sad that they were “incriminating” themselves by being so forthcoming. If they confessed to it, that was just a sign that they were honest people and they can’t be terrorists. The Guardian, recently in 2020, also joined The Atlantic line and claimed that if the men incriminated themselves, the interrogations had to be discredited. And anyways, right now it all has to be about the Chinese detainment camps in Xinjiang anyways, so you can’t have actual Uighur jihadists uncomfortably messing up the narrative. The Guardian presses that ETIM is an organization designated as a terrorist organization only by China, skipping that the designation was virtually uniform – the US government, the UN Security Council, the UN report on the status of Al Qaeda and ISIS, the Canadian government, and more. You can really tell that these facts are quite annoying to the liberal media, and it is really messing up their stories.

The CNN rather gullible narrative ends with a criticism of Canada, which is also repeated by The Guardian: Canada won’t let in three Uighur jihadists, former Guantanamo detainees. The liberal media narrative wants you to see them simply as men looking to be reunited with their families, but the Canadian government hypocritically stands in the way of love. Hypocritically – because, as CNN states, Canada is against the Chinese crackdown and detainment of people in Xinjiang but won’t let in Uighur jihadists, former Guantanamo detainees. That, in fact, is the most rational approach to the issue a government can have.

The Guardian pushed the same story with the title “It breaks my heart”, also blaming Canada for not letting them in, after their families moved to Canada.

The Atlantic article pushed the same narrative, claiming that the Chinese government somehow tricked and deceived the American government that these Al-Qaeda affiliated, Tora Bora residing, Guantanamo-held terrorists were terrorists. This was only Chinese propaganda by an authoritarian regime. The article admits that the Chinese experienced over 200 terrorist attacks by that group, but here the nuanced analysis kicks in. These events were separate and isolated, instead of arising from one place of coordination, so this wide-spread terrorism wave can’t be terrorism. That pattern is exactly what terrorism of this kind looks like, in fact: loose, ideologically-driven networks without a direct chain of command. You don’t need one place of coordination to prove that terrorists are terrorists. The article also submits that a lot of terrorist attacks that China experienced were actually falsely branded as terrorism, citing small-scale incidents and attacks that would right away fall under the mainstream terrorism narrative, if the same happened in Western Europe. The Atlantic narrative also pushes the argument that terrorism is used only as an excuse by the Chinese, that’s not the real reason why they are after these networks, as if it could get more serious than that. And most importantly for the American audience, the Atlantic analysis claims that the Uighur jihadists were never anti-American “enemy combatants”, even though the author cites an article by the Council on Foreign Relations that mentions the foiled terrorist plot on the American Embassy in 2002, which was a central event for the US government. But that doesn’t count because it didn’t happen, the plot was foiled. The group was rather local, The Atlantic argues now, and was not a part of the international jihad. They were, however. ETIM’s objective was the creation of a fundamentalist Muslim state called “East Turkistan”, which was supposed to cover many countries in the region – something like ISIS’s idea for a caliphate, but for the Turk ethnicity across the region. In terms of operations, Uighur operations definitely had an international reach – whether across countries in the region, by threatening the international Olympic Games, and even as a terrorist attack on a tourist resort going as far as Thailand.

So, these are the narratives that various liberal corners are trying to push: the version of the warm, fuzzy, innocent terrorists who were just misunderstood. If there is one area where US mainstream media can’t sell their narratives about “demonizing”, “scapegoating” and “dog whistling” to the American public, that’s with Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. But they will still try. Reading these articles, you have to wonder: what’s the agenda there.

After their release from Guantanamo, Uighur jihadists were dispatched to Albania, Switzerland and Slovakia and some Latin American countries. The question is whether the American government has leverage over these former Guantanamo detainees, and whether they will join the terrorist networks operating against China. We don’t know what the terms of release of these jihadists were and whether they are not sleeping cells that could be unleashed upon China at some point. The radicalization of Xinjiang by the US government with the aim to create trouble for the Chinese government is one of the reasons the US government invaded Afghanistan, as I argued previously.

You have to love the way the US government interprets US support for terrorism around the world: we are not funding and supporting terrorism, we are just creating strategic groups to fight authoritarian regimes. In the 1980s, the US government created and funded the mujahidin, right there, in the same region. Then they pushed ISIS on the world as the good terrorists in Syria, only to have to fight them later, and God knows how many more terrorist groups that we have no idea about.

The fact that over the last 1-2 years the big US mainstream media spends resources on stories to basically white-wash clear-cut terrorists should signal something. These stories appear only now, almost 10 years after most of the Uighur jihadists were released from Guantanamo. These stories about the innocence of Guantanamo detainees scapegoated by the bad Chinese government didn’t appear right away. You’d think that the time for these stories would have been around the time when the Uighur jihadists got released from Guantanamo, not now.  

The white-washing efforts by the US mainstream media who have to somehow explain the inconvenient past, show a sad fact about American public discourse right now: you can be vilified as a monster for saying things to women, while US mainstream media will break their backs to explain why actual terrorists are not that bad after all, and are really the victims here. They were not really terrorists, they just became victims of their terrorist activities. Watch this white-washing space. It will become even more pronounced, as we move forward into more hardened narratives of the Cold War against China.

Continue Reading

Terrorism

Islamic State Khorasan’s Threat and the Taliban

Published

on

As the Islamic State loses territory, it has increasingly turned to Afghanistan as a base for its global caliphate. Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) is the Islamic State’s Central Asian province and remains active in the region since 2015. Khorasan region historically encompasses parts of modern-day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. IS-K mainly consists of some members of TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud- Dawa, Lashkar-e-Islam, Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Afghan Taliban.

IS-K has received support from the Islamic State’s core leadership in Iraq and Syria. Like the Islamic State’s core leadership in Iraq and Syria, IS-K seeks to establish a caliphate beginning in South and Central Asia, governed by sharia law. IS-K disregards international borders and envisions its territory transcending nation-states like Pakistan and Afghanistan. IS-K aims at delegitimizing existing states, degrading trust in democracy, exploiting sectarianism.

IS-K’s relations with the Afghan Taliban are tense due to sectarian and some policy differences. The Taliban follows the Hanfi school of Sunni Islam. While IS-K has derived its teachings from Wahabi or Salfi school of Islam. IS-K propounds the agenda of borderless jihad to establish one political power. IS-K directs the fighters to “have no mercy or compassion” against the Taliban for refusing to “join the caliphate”. The Taliban agenda has been limited to Afghanistan. In 2015, a video by IS-K had denounced the Taliban for having an amir. Both emerged from the same madrassas. Five of the six IS-K leaders were Pakistani. Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadem, a Taliban defector, also pledged allegiance to the ISIL in 2015. Shahab al Muhajir as IS-K new emir following the capture of his predecessor Aslam Farooqi. He was once a mid-level commander in the Haqqani Network. 

IS-K condemned the Taliban’s peace negotiations with the United States in its March 2020 newsletter Al Naba, stating that the Taliban and the crusaders are allies. In 2021, IS-K vowed to retaliate against the Taliban for their peace deal with the United States. IS-K blames Taliban as nationalists with parochial interests in Afghanistan.

In an open letter to IS leader Abu Bakar al Baghdadi the Taliban warned they would be compelled to “defend our achievements”. IS-K has been exploiting the internal power struggle within the Taliban.  In 2015, then Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour urged IS-K fighters to coalesce “under one banner”, alongside the Taliban. Leaders in the Taliban’s Quetta Shura authorized additional offensives and deployed elite Red Unit to fight IS-K. In Jowzjan province, IS-K surrendered to the Taliban.

The IS-K has launched multiple attacks since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan particularly at Kabul airport. According to the report, the group has strengthened its position in and around Kabul, where it conducts most of its attacks, targeting minorities, activists, government employees and personnel of Afghan security forces. Taliban has taken districts from IS-K in the past and reportedly killed Omar Khorasani, Farooq Bengalzai and Abu Obaidullah Mutawakil—the former leaders of ISKP. The Taliban had also closed more than three dozen Salafist mosques across 16 different provinces.

Zabiullah Mujahid said, “IS-K has no physical presence here, but it is possible some people who may be our own Afghan have adopted Daesh ideology, which is a phenomenon that is neither popular nor is supported by Afghan”.

Taliban has also international support in dealing with IS-K. The Iranian military has also collaborated with the Taliban to secure Iran’s land border with Afghanistan and deny IS-K fighters’ freedom of movement. The Taliban leaders have already opened dialogue with several regional countries, assuming that they would not allow IS-K to gain a foothold in Afghanistan and threaten their stability. States such as Iran, China, and Russia are reviewing their engagement with the Taliban. The chief of US Central Command Gen. Frank Mckenzie also admitted that the US is also providing very limited support to the Taliban to counter the IS-K.

IS-K is an external and weak terrorist outfit, which cannot manage massive inclusion. The IS-K is a potential terrorist threat, but not beyond being controlled. In the present day, however, there is little incentives for groups like the TTP to align with severely weakened IS-K at the expense of the Taliban. The TTP in fact put out a detailed statement saying that they are against ISKP in July 2020. The TTP and the Afghan Taliban both have deep connections with Al Qaeda, which has a deep rivalry with IS. There are few chances that the TTP will join hands with IS-K as it is an ally of Al Qaeda with allegiance to Mullah Haibatulllah, the Taliban supreme leader. There are more chances that East Turkistan Movement ETIM, a long-standing battlefield ally of the Taliban, will manage the Uyghur jihadist network in Afghanistan.

International pressure is also mounting on Taliban to take action against IS-K. According to the Morgan, if Taliban is not able to gain the international recognition it needs to be able to run the country. It will also hinder Taliban access to the global financial institutions, rendering the Taliban incapable of paying for the imports that feed the country. In peace deal, it was with the assurance that the Taliban would severe ties with other armed groups. However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen refused to become the part of US-led efforts to counter IS-k.

UN report estimates that there are 1500 to 2200 personnel of IS-K in Afghanistan. Moreover, IS-K has less influence in the militant ecosystem of Afghanistan. So, it is likely less chances that IS-K becomes the threat to the regional stability. Taliban has muscle to effectively eliminate the IS-K threat from Afghanistan.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

South Asia2 hours ago

Pakistan slips on a slippery slope of religious militancy

Pakistani political and military leaders have vowed to eradicate ultra-conservative religious extremism that drove a mob to torture, brutally lynch...

Development4 hours ago

Report Underlines Reforms to Support Fiscal Federalism, Green Growth in Nepal

Nepal has made significant strides in implementing fiscal federalism while key reforms are needed to support fiscal sustainability and Nepal’s...

Africa6 hours ago

The UK’s travel ban: Why Nigerians must look towards their leaders

Once again Nigeria’s image problem rears its ugly head, only this time, it has to do with how little care...

Development8 hours ago

Philippines: Boosting Private Sector Growth Can Strengthen Recovery, Create More Jobs

Rebounding from a deep contraction in 2020, the Philippine economy is forecast to grow 5.3 percent this year before accelerating...

International Law10 hours ago

The crisis of international law

The idea of promoting the human rights agenda in the image and likeness of the Western countries’ principles – as...

Eastern Europe12 hours ago

Lithuania: pensioners get ready for death

Main attention of the Lithuanian media has been focused on migrant crises and security issues for several weeks. This problem...

Africa Today14 hours ago

United States COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Mozambique

In an effective effort to make tremendous and recognizable contributions to help fight the spread of coronavirus, the United States...

Trending