Moez al-Fezzani, a Tunisian citizen popularly known by his initial nom de guerre Abu Nassim, was arrested with other Daesh-Isis members in Sirte, between Rigdaleen and Al Jimail, Libya, on August 18, 2016. Already taken to trial in Italy for terrorist recruitment, Abu Nassim was obviously acquitted in Milan – a city which, since the time of the Mosque in Viale Jenner, is “the main centre of Al Qaeda in Europe”, as stated in a CIA report of ten years ago.
The Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI) in Milan was created in 1988, upon the initiative of some members of the Egyptian movement Jamaa al Islamiya. It immediately became a center to gather, train and fund the Islamists going to fight in Bosnia.
A stupid Western war enabling Alja Izetbegovic – the leader of the Bosnian Republic of Sarajevo, as well as author of a book prophetically entitled “Islamic fundamentalism” – to create an Islamist area in the Balkans serving the interests of Afghanistan, Chechnya, Al Qaeda (at the time, Bin Laden was often in Sarajevo) and Kosovars.
At the time, the cells and training camps of ICI – which enjoyed strange, but large amounts of money – were in Gallarate, Como, Varese and Cremona.
Considering Pareto’s theory of the persistence of aggregates, it would be nice to keep on following these groups, even though it results that ICI was dismantled.
Hence, at first, we must note the strange persistence of terrorist networks.
In Catalonia there was the Algerian citizen Bellil Belgacem, working for a halal butcher of Vilanova i la Geltrù, who organized the attack on our base at Nasiriyah. Later Belgacem was also in Milan – Viale Jenner, of course – before finally arriving in Syria from where he perpetrated the attack on our base in Iraq, by killing 19 Italian soldiers.
The “foreign” jihadists are those who usually organize terrorist attacks, as it is likely that their cover in the attack area is known to the local intelligence services.
Nevertheless the great cover and motivation networks – another key factor for assessing the jihad – remain, assuming that there are no serious threats of infiltration or dismantling.
Belkacem was identified because – as always happens – the Italian intelligence services had sent biological material of the attacker also to the Spanish Guardia Civil that unexpectedly solved the problem.
The house where the terrorists who organized the attack in Barcelona lived is another factor of the persistence of networks, owned by Mohamed Mrabet Fahsi, the Head of the cell held responsible for the terrorist attack in the Atocha station, Madrid, on March 11, 2004.
The “journalists” who killed Shah Massoud, also known as the Lion of Panjshir, one day before the 9/11 attack, by asking him as first question – a second before killing him – “Why are you so upset with Osama Bin Laden?” came from Moleenbeek, the municipality in the Brussels-Capital Region which was to become even more notorious years later.
Hence the first factor is the persistence of networks, but only if the network is wide, reliable and capable of mobilizing a sufficiently large cover area, made up of Islamists who never mobilize for the “infidels” or of smart manipulators, as is often the case with the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who weaken and defuse the attacks and sometimes attribute them to “Islamophobia”.
But the history of jihadist threats to Italy is long and overlaps with the actions which have been carried out by Al Qaeda and Daesh-Isis in the rest of Europe for too many years.
The first major report in Italy’s recent history dates back to March 2014, when the Moroccan intelligence services alerted the Italian ones, thus avoiding three attacks by the skin of their teeth – in the Milan subway, in the Basilica of St. Anthony, Padua and in the Church of St. Petronius, Bologna.
The Church in Bologna is well-known for its fresco portraying Muhammad in Hell (Canto XXVIII of Dante’s Divine Comedy), as sower of discord, together with Ali, the first Shi’a Imam.
Another constant feature is the choice of highly symbolic or highly damaging targets for the “infidels” so as to spread the terror which blocks the opponents’ reactions and intimidates them.
The symbolism is for internal use and unites the jihadists in an apparently “high” purpose.
Then the jihad rank-and-file comes in to play down, hide and relativize.
Hence either mass – the maximum amount of victims – or symbol, namely the destruction of the true or alleged anti-Islamic image.
Moreover, in the Hell – Canto XXVIII, Muhammad tells Dante to warn the schismatic and heretic Frà Dolcino.
Hence should there be an alliance between the Islamists and the followers of the Piedmontese heretic of Valsesia?
Furthermore, at the time, the front cover of the official magazine of Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, Dabiq, showed the black flag of the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate flying atop the Egyptian obelisk at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
What is the symbol for? Simply for showing the policy line to the militants, i.e. to hit the Church and nothing else; to later terrorize the enemy, according to the warfare technique indicated by the Qur’an and the ahadit and finally to mislead the opponent’s operations.
War is deception, a Koranic theme that must be never forgotten.
In that phase, not long after the 2001 attack on the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh, the Moroccan intelligence services that had warned Italy also neutralized 126 jihadist cells, arrested 2,676 Daesh-Isis militants and nipped 276 attacks in the bud.
Another constant feature of jihadist terrorism is that it is created and recreated at great speed, so as to confuse the opponents, direct them towards “old” networks and conceal networks while preparing the attacks.
Throughout 2015, Twitter and other social media published photos with Isis militants appearing in front of political, mass and historical-artistic sites in Italy with the hashtag “We_Are_Coming_O_Rome” or “Islamic State in Rome”.
We have never had doubts on the active presence of jihadist networks in Italy.
In fact, last May a network of illegal migrant traffickers between Bari, Catania and Salerno was dismantled – a network of Somalis who had contacts with groups of jihadists they probably funded thanks to the proceeds of their trafficking.
Apart from the small talk of “misguided idealists” or of incompetent politicians, it is obvious that illegal immigration covers up the creation of jihadist groups in Italy, initially divided by ethnicity and subsequently funded by international jihad networks.
“We are coming, o Rome” (“and we will slaughter you in your own houses”) is a technically easy-to-identify hashtag on Twitter and finally refers to the presence of the “Islamic State in Rome”.
A major identity (the struggle against the Catholic Church) linked to a minor identity: every militant knows what to do and what to do is indicated by the reality in which the jihad operates: attacks with knives, propane and methane gas cylinders or with mobiles to be used as remote trigger.
The jihad is camouflage, but it is the explicit goal that must be reached. There is no camouflage or deception here.
Therefore another permanent feature of European jihad is, at first, the great attack, mobilizing the Islamic masses and ensuring their loyalty, by exciting and inflaming them, and later the microphysics of power established by “do-it-yourself” terrorism.
Last February, the “Caliphate” published a text written in good Italian by a Mr. Mehdi, entitled “Lo Stato Islamico, una realtà che ti vorrebbe comunicare”, much focused on the “services to citizens”.
It was later discovered that said Mr. Mehdi was Elmahdi Alili, a 20-year-old Italian citizen of Moroccan origin.
In said text Alili also threatened to fire Caliphate’s missiles against Sicily.
We will see how the old Islamic conquest of Sicily is a myth equivalent to that of Al Andalus in Spain – a myth to which Osama Bin Laden was already referring in his first proclamations.
Therefore the first Daesh-Isis texts on Spain are of January 7, January 31 and May 30, 2016, respectively, with a very high climax of videos and messages in the networks managed by Daesh, just before the Barcelona attacks.
At first the people are motivated and given general orders; later the network is organized and finally the green light is given.
What about Italy? From June 3 to 7 last, Isis-Daesh produced three propaganda videos and a PDF file – two of those videos referred to Rome.
The images are very recent, shot in motion and at night. The videos have titles referring to Italy, such as “Deadline Rome”, while the PDF file is entitled “You want Raqqa, we want Rome”.
But Raqqa is now lost – hence the conquest of Rome seems to be a sort of revenge and reconstruction of the Caliphate among the “infidels”.
Hence the first video, translated from Arabic into English, is “Deadline Rome”, but the word “deadline” has also other meanings in English.
All these videos are produced by the Al Waad Foundation (“Commitment/Promise”), an unofficial structure linked to Daesh-Isis.
The analysis of the video makes us revert to the Libyan issue, the current key factor of the connection between the global jihad and Italy.
In fact, Isis fears a primary role played by Italy in supporting al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA). Then the Caliphate calls the “brothers” to take up arms to spread the jihad in Libya and finally recalls Al Libi, the ”heir” to Bin Laden.
Another sign not to be overlooked is that – following the jihadist tradition – the “Caliphate” refers to a battle of the Prophet, namely Khandaq or the “Battle of the Trench”.
Meccans and infidels on the one side, Medinan Muslims and newly-converted on the other.
A battle to be studied symbolically, but also practically: the 3,000 followers of the Prophet defending Medina remained holed up without accepting the clash with the overwhelming forces of the “infidels”.
This is obviously the image of the current Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate.
After Muhammad’s order to dig a trench to avoid the Meccans’ cavalry, the siege continued.
But the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza refused to collaborate with the Prophet, as it had previously promised.
Hence it was accused of betrayal.
The symbolism is clear.
The “Caliphate” propaganda on Rome continues with “we will conquer Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem”.
The possible meaning is the following: we will start from Rome, home to the “Crusaders” and later we will continue with Byzantium and Judaism.
Finally the PDF file shows the Colosseum and the Theater of Marcellus and it has been put online by the Al Wafa Foundation, an official organization of Daesh-Isis.
Here again there is a reference to the Quraysh tribe, the Meccans rejecting Muhammad’s Prophecy.
Is this the sign of an internal debate, probably between militants of the Syrian-Iraqi “State” and the jihadists who want to operate in Europe?
Staying or going away – thus turning Daesh-Isis into a global terrorist agency, such as the old Al Qaeda – or calling all the jihadists already present in Europe to return to its territorial area, only after their carrying out an attack or at least a personal war action against the “infidels”?
Is it a simple indication of the “enemy” to be successful in some operations or is it a geopolitical project starting from resistance in Raqqa and in the rest of the Daesh region?
Or – as the second video entitled “Between two Migrations” shows – the jihadists are explicitly asked to return to the “Caliphate”, in addition to showing the images of Pope Francis’s visit to Lesbos while migrants seem to refuse and criticize the Holy Father’s visit.
Let us analyze data: the first regards migrants – hence the Caliphate works on the assumption that there is a share of migrants currently present in Italy who could reunite with the territorial jihad. The second is the rejection of Pope Francis’ “open hand policy”, which could be successful in some regions of the Muslim world.
This means that the jihadists are said: carry out the great attack you are already preparing and then come here.
The third video entitled “Ramadan, the Month of Conquest” explains with many historical data the Islamic conquest of Sicily. Then a boot appears on the image of Italy and finally the word Rome comes to the screen.
Last March a rather strange video was put online, subtitled in Arabic and English, in which one of the two jihadists spoke only the sign language.
I am not an expert of this language, but it is very likely that the signs say much more than expected.
This video for deaf-mutes is again a call to move to the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate – possibly after perpetrating an attack – with unspecific threats to the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, always repeating the usual slogan “we will come and kill you”.
Hence either the jihadists are rounded up and gathered to create critical mass at a time when – only thanks to Russia and its regional allies – the Caliphate is surrendering, or the jihadists who have remained in the Isis-Daesh region are said to go and destroy European countries.
The ambiguity is obviously desired.
However, it was in April 2015 (which makes us think that the attack was closer than expected, considering the time of the traditional connection between the threat on the web and the perpetration of the terrorist attack) that Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate put online a video in Arabic, but fully subtitled in Italian.
It was designed both for the Italian Arabs and for the young people not yet mastering the Koranic language.
In fact, it was produced as a good music video.
“Like a thunderbolt you will see the war in your countries”. “We will come to spread slaughter and death”.
These are the two poles of propaganda.
The sharp knives are mentioned, to which we have already got used.
There is the precise indication of a weapon.
The video subtitled in Italian refers to “balls of fire”, which may be bullets or bombs.
This is an indication movie – with the true indication of the end times.
Without eschatology we cannot understand the contemporary jihad, also in its aspects of McIslam which, in other contexts, could make us laugh.
With this specific propaganda the “Caliphate” wants to say that its militants must take action soon, as soon as possible.
Again in November 2015 a series of particularly cruel photos referring to Italy were spread via Twitter together with horrible threats.
In that case the jihadists who must arrive in Italy are said to act quickly, so as to prepare the attack and remain unknown to the police and the intelligence services (in fact, it is clearly said “we will come to kill you”) or the jihadists who are preparing a terror attack are told it must be extremely fierce.
What if the Caliphate – today floundering in a crisis between Syria and Iraq – wanted to create pockets of ongoing destabilization in Europe, to be connected from corridors or small control areas – as it did in its Middle East territory?
Europe is so weak and uncertain that not even this option can be ruled out.
Finally, in my opinion, little analytical value can be attributed to the interpretation of the current jihad – at least from the Nice to the Barcelona attacks – as an internal struggle between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies, using the Islamist terrorist network.
Certainly, these two countries have huge real estate, hotel and industrial property in Italy and Europe.
But a terrorist operation in the Porta Nuova district, Milan – bought by Qatar – would bear a too clear signature.
And either of the two countries could really strike the final blow on the Caliphate they both have so much supported.
And yet both countries currently keep on helping the “Caliphate” – hence the structure of Al Baghdadi, now dead, has no interest in supporting one against the other.
I know that terrorists are always more informed about their targets than we may believe: I had a bad experience with the so-called “New Red Brigades”. I was first on the list, but the then National Police Chief, Vincenzo Parisi, informed me of everything our National Security Network came to know.
Moreover, strange events still occur, such as the fact of a journalist denying the Shoah who was found to be a friend of the founder of the above-mentioned New Red Brigades, namely Nadia Lioce.
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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