The world shivers at the mention of terrorism. As a matter of fact, modern terrorism has proven to pose the most serious threat to global peace and human rights. Despite the possibilities of other elements influencing the actions made by the terrorists, media reports continued to label the attackers as fanatic Islamic terrorists and Muslim guerrillas.
As if being Muslim equates to being a terrorist, the former became synonymous with the latter. Due to the bias created by the media, there is a disregard of the extra-legal elements other than religion that affect terrorism. The understanding of terrorism is therefore amorphous and vague, creating a lacuna within the international law and instruments that are created to fight it.
In this essay, I discuss the relationship of international law with the understanding of terrorism as an international crime. The focus is not only Islam but also all religions. I aim to probe that religion is only one of the elements that influence terrorism. However, the affiliation of religion with terror is not surprising. There have been various attacks that were planned and carried out in the name of religion, but what is usually overlooked is that religion itself is not always behind the attacks, and other extra-legal factors influence the attackers and their reasons. This bias is reflected by the media, which plays a huge role in establishing what terrorism is and who is seen as a terrorist.
International community has taken several initiatives to enact multilateral instruments to eliminate terrorism with the aim of protecting basic human rights and eliminating any threat to such priority. International law targeted terrorism in two ways: the first was through enacting multilateral treaties which are open to all States to sign; and the second is the result of onerous efforts by the General Assembly to execute a series of legal recommendations to help States fight terrorism. Today, there are approximately 12 Conventions and Protocols that legislate on terrorism. For the purposes of this essay, three Conventions will be examined: the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997),which is said to fill the lacunae regarding the investigation, prosecution and extradition of terrorists;the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999), which was claimed to be created in the hope of crippling the whole structure of terrorism;and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005), which arguably targets nuclear weapons and their production to prevent abuse by terrorists.
International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997)
As a result of the improvement in technology and transport, bomb attacks are easier to plan, while explosives are conveniently accessible. This, and the increasing number of suicide bombers, has negatively affected the arduous war against terrorism, as the world struggles to control and monitor terrorists. In 2001, one of the men responsible for the Al-Khobar Towers attack on an American base in Saudi Arabia was indicted. The attack reportedly injured five hundred people, while nineteen perished. The alleged terrorist and his partners used a farm as the main area for building the bomb truck that was used in the attack. Extradition was sought by the USA, but Saudi Arabia rejected the extradition claim on the basis that the attack occurred on Saudi soil and that the terrorists were nationals.
This specific case gives rise to several extra-legal factors, such as the religious element, because the terrorists were reportedly linked to Hezbollah Al Hijaz– a Saudi Shiite opposition group that allegedly carried out several terrorist attacks and the political element, because the targeted group was foreign American military personnel and not non-army civilians, according to the findings of United States of America vs. Ahmed Mughassil(2001) case in US.
The UN, with the aim of enacting legislation that governs bomb attacks, adopted the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997).The Convention incorporates several essential elements targeting terrorism, for example, prohibiting any individual from acquiring and detonating explosives (Articles 1 and 2);providing that any individual charged with this crime must be prosecuted [Article 7(2)];and administering the extradition of the alleged terrorists (Article 9). However, the most swelling Article in the Convention must be Article 5, which recognizes the existence of extra-legal factors, stating that acts of terrorism are not “justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature (Article 5).” Therefore, it is clear that the Convention does recognize extra-legal factors, but has yet to accept their influence on terrorism; thus, failing to address it. In other words, the Convention pushes States to ignore those extra-legal elements; it takes a ‘punish but not prevent’ approach. This means that the Convention punishes acts of terrorism but fails to identify the root causes, and therefore is inadequate in preventing any future attacks.
In the case of the bombing of the Al-Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, for example, it could be argued that the motivations for the attack were merely political for two reasons: the attack was carried out by individuals associated to Hezbollah–the radical opposition group, and the chosen targets were military personnel. It is true that motivations do not act as justification, but addressing the root motives helps further develop understanding of terrorism as a whole in order to prevent future atrocities. Theoretically, if the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997) required States to investigate and control the cause, the reasons behind various types of terrorism could be uprooted. In other words, if the Convention provided for an investigation of the reasons behind the attack, both the terrorist individual and the group he or she is affiliated with would undergo scrutiny and repercussions to prevent future violations of human rights.
Furthermore, linking the extra-legal factors could help in identifying future possible targets. For example, religiously-motivated terrorists usually attack other religions, terrorists motivated by politics attack parliaments and military power, while personal vendettas and psychological issues might contribute to school shootings. Terrorist bomb attacks are planned on objectives that must be achieved: to kill as many people as possible to send a political message or to destroy symbolic objects and property. These comprehensive understanding of terrorism activities may lead States to prevent terrorist attacks far before they are taken place. Therefore, measures by the international community must be taken to incorporate binding Conventions and Articles that target the root cause of terrorist bombings.
International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999)
The Abu Sayyaf group – a terrorist group based in the Philippines, suffered from a major loss in numbers of armed militants affiliated to it as a result of financial difficulties. In fact, there were reportedly only two hundred armed militants connected to Abu Sayyaf. In the hope of fiscal growth, the group carried out several kidnapping operations, according to Australian National Security.
Abu Sayyaf is not the only terrorist group that sought financial aid through crime: Al Qaeda receives funds from drug trafficking and kidnapping as reported in CNN on May 04, 2011, while other groups use extortion to build their empires. However, at times, financial aid is willingly given to these terrorist groups. After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the USA received confidential information relating to a sheikh in Yemen, who planned financing Al Qaeda. The informant claimed that up to USD20 million had been raised, which was to be transferred in cargo under the name of a honey trading business in order to avoid raising suspicion, according to Michael Freeman and MoyaraRuehsen in their article entitled “Terrorism Financing Methods: An Overview” at Perspectives on Terrorism in 2013 (Vol. 7, No. 4). Therefore, the fight against terrorism should not be merely directed towards violent acts but must also target the financing and sponsoring of terrorism, which can be made through: bank transfers, fundraising through fake charitiesor donations by wealthy individuals.
Measures have been taken by the UN to combat the financial support of terrorism. For example, the Security Council adopted sanctions that froze all funds of the Taliban– a radical terrorist organization through Security Council Resolution No. 1333 of 2000.However, an important institutive action was the enactment of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999). The Convention shares similar Articles to those found in theInternational Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings Convention (1997).Therefore, development on the targets of international law was limited. However, one distinct characteristic of the Convention is that it aims to destroy the core of terrorism –if finances are suspended, then executing terrorist operations will prove difficult due to the lack of sufficient funds.
Nevertheless, the Convention fails to target the reasons behind why individuals fund terrorism. There may be some psychological factors relating to the reasons why an individual might finance terrorism, for example, frustration with certain lifestyles or just the support of extremist ideologies might trigger an individual to support terrorist acts. Moreover, support of those ideologies and philosophies might be inherited or learned through biological factors, culture and socialization.
Economically, financing terrorism is not only beneficial to the terrorist group sponsored but also to the provider of the funds. For example, if Iraq is the leading State in the production of oil, then using terrorism cripples its production rate. Consequently, it helps advance the oil business other competitor States. This is because foreign investors and international firms consider the quality of peace as being more attractive.
On the other hand, the political reasons are very similar to factors that aim to ruin a State’s economy. However, politics are also influenced by various factors, such as culture, the spread of different ideologies and interest groups, and religion. Financing terrorism could be a way with which autocratic political leaders express disdain towards another State. Despite all of these extra-legal factors that influence the financing of terrorism, the Convention fails to address these issues.
International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005)
The past two decades have witnessed a significant increase in terrorist destructiveness. The profound fear of nuclear weapons is understandable because the consequences are not only deadly but cause catastrophe on a global scale. If the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies in 1945 are any indication, then another nuclear explosion will result in massive international damage. These grave violations of rights and disrespect for human life were enough to instill fear within most States; in other words, the lesson was learned.
Nuclear weapons became attractive to all types of organizations: both States and terrorist groups. For example, the Pelindaba attack in South Africa in 2007 caused public and legal uproar over the protection needed relating to nuclear materials. The attack reportedly involved two groups of men, who gained access to a control room in a corporation that stored hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium. Despite the fact that the motives for the breach on the corporation’s estate are unknown yet, it was obvious that nuclear weapons have gained the attention of criminals and terrorists, and, hence, better laws and protective measures are needed.
The main international convention regulating nuclear weapons is the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005). Similar to the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997) and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999), this Convention rejects any justification for terrorism (Article 6). However, its main failure is its lack of jurisdiction over States [Article 4(4)]. In other words, it only applies to terrorist groups, individuals and organizations. This lack of application to States is illogical for two reasons: the first nuclear wars were started by States during the Second World War and not terrorist groups,and States that sponsor terrorism do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Convention (2005), and, thus, cannot be held accountable. Moreover, any terrorist group seeking a nuclear weapon requires a state source to enable it to obtain certain materials needed to build the weapon. Thus, since a connection with a state is crucial for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, the Convention should have jurisdiction over states and be able to hold them accountable.
In addition, nuclear-weapon States are States that have rights to develop nuclear weapons under the Treaty of Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968). These are: China, Russia, the USA, the United Kingdom (UK) and France. The Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (1968) governs the production of nuclear energy and its peaceful use and includes three pillars: criminalizing the transferring of nuclear weapons (Articles 1 and 2); binding States to peacefully use and develop nuclear energy (Article 5); and supporting nuclear disarmament (Article 6). Nevertheless, the five nuclear-weapon States have adopted different policies towards using their nuclear weapons, but have maintained that nuclear weapons will be used if deemed necessary. Nevertheless, all five States use the idea of ‘self-defence’ or ‘deterrence’ to justify owning nuclear weapons with the aim of persuading potential enemies that the risk of using nuclear weapons against those five States is higher than the gains.But what about the right of those potential adversaries to self-defence and deterring measures?
This is where the extra-legal factors are triggered – mainly political factors. The fact that only certain States are legally able to possess nuclear weapons alienates other States; specifically, if there is an already-existing conflict. These political implications give rise to intra-State rivalry, further motivating States to use terrorism as a method. Instead of granting attention to the political factors that could result in a nuclear war, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005) states that offences found in this Convention are not to be “regarded…[a]s an offence inspired by political motives (Article 15)”. In other words, the Convention fails to address the political factors that increase the chances of a nuclear war because it disregards the possibility of a State helping a terrorist group, and ignores political inequality relating to owning nuclear weapons.
It is true that religion does have an influence on terrorism, but it is not greater than the influence of other extra-legal factors. Notwithstanding the fact that the media is the key factor behind labeling religion with terrorism, scholars have also extensively related religion to terrorism. This failure to accurately address terrorism resulted in an international lacuna – a gap that led to an increase in the number of terrorist groups.
The war on terrorism requires the adoption of both social and legal measures. Failure to act will only lead to an increase in powerful terrorist groups. The current fight against terrorism is unrealistic. In fact, measures taken rely on compliance with international law. However, compliance with law is the last concern of terrorist groups.
With regard to the legal situation, the first and foremost important change needed is an international consensus on the meaning of terrorism; the UN has yet to agree on a functional definition.
Furthermore, in order to socially combat terrorism, stereotypes of Muslims must be eradicated. This is because the alienation of Muslims in Western societies might act as a sociological factor that may motivate an individual to seek revenge through executing terrorist acts. Moreover, bias and discrimination would result in Muslims employing a defence mechanism to protect themselves. This defence mechanism might develop into hostility towards civilians, the government and political authorities. Therefore, the religious focus must shift to include several extra-legal elements in order to consider all possible motivations relating to terrorism.
Economic issues must also be targeted and resolved to lessen the attractiveness of incentives promised by terrorist groups to potential recruits. Furthermore, more research is required relating to the effects of psychological factors associated with terrorism. Social issues are very important in combating terrorism because they have a major influence over human behavior.
No matter how successful legal Conventions and Resolutions against terrorism are, they will not eradicate terrorist acts. International Conventions are useful in establishing that no crime will go unpunished, but terrorists disdain the nature of law. Therefore, respect for it is non- existent. As a result, the international community must collaborate on both legal measures and methods to analyze extra-legal factors in order to stop the formation or expansion of terrorist groups.
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.
The heartwarming story of Uighur jihadists
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.
Islamic State Khorasan’s Threat and the Taliban
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.
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