At the beginning of January 2019, the Central Asian terrorist group Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) has publicly renewed its bayat (oath of allegiance) to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s global chief.Despite the fact that KTJ swore to al Qaeda in 2015, the group leader Abu Saloh’s (Sirojiddin Mukhtarov) oath was issued in the form of an audiotape that was first released via the venture’s Telegram channel. This indicates that the ties of Uzbek jihadists with al Qaeda remain strong and Ayman al Zawahiri through affiliated groups continues to influence the religious situation in Central Asia.
It should be noted that besides KTJ, also Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) from Central Asia swore allegiance to al Qaeda. All of them today are fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province under the leadership of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Sunni jihadistgroup.
While HTS, following a series of strategic rebranding efforts, proclaims that it is an independent entity not affiliated with al-Qaeda, his combat squad KTJ first published its bayat to Ayman al Zawahiri.Thus, the Central Asian groups in Syria became the link between al Qaeda and HTS after their formal detachment of ties, although many experts on Salafism, including myself, are suspicious of their severed relations.
To identify the aggressive ideology of al Qaeda and its thick shadow hanging over the Middle East and Central Asia, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of KTJ’s bayat.
How Uzbek jihadists swore allegiance to al Qaeda?
The Uzbek jihadists’ oath ceremony is fully audio-recorded and released on the Abu Saloh’s Telegram page under the heading “Bayat to al Qaeda”. From the sounds of prayer speech, it can be assumed that the Uzbek jihadists took the oath to al Qaeda during the Salat-al-Juma (Friday congregational prayer), which is considered an important day in Islam.
In the 14-minute Khutbah (preaching) Abu Saloh elaborated on the ideological and political prerequisites of why they should swear allegiance to al Qaeda. He began his speech that “Allah Almighty said that only constant and continuous Jihad protects Islam from internal and external enemies, for which Muslims must unite and fight against Mushrikeen (idolater) and Kafirs (unbelievers including Jews and Christians). The main kafirs are America and Russia, which conduct a hostile policy towards Muslims. Therefore, Mujahideen must fulfill the covenant of the Creator and lead the Jihad against the American and the Russian.”This position of the KTJ leader is fully consistent with the ideological doctrine of al Qaeda, which considers the US as the ‘first enemy’ of Muslims.
Further, Abu Saloh continued that “Muslims must overcome internal turmoil and unite into the Ummah. Unification of our forces will accelerate the approach of a Nasr” (in Uzbek there is no word ‘Nasr’, he talks about the Quran’s Surah an-Naṣr, which translates ‘victory’ or ‘Allah’s help’). He quotes this Surah in Arabic. According to Abu Saloh, “if the Mujahideen wholeheartedly devote to Allah, constantly repent before Him and hurry to become Shahids for His sake, He will surely give a Nasr.”
Then he emotionally says that “in order to speed up the arrival of an-Naṣr and declaring Jihad against Kafirs, our Jamaat takes the oath of allegiance to al Qaeda.”Someone from the crowd shouts, Takbeer.” After that, all Uzbek terrorists shout “Allahu Akbar”.
After taking the oath, Abu Saloh praises al Qaeda, “this group has successfully delivered a series of crushing blows to the enemies of Islam in their territory, which still causes a feeling of fear and nightmare to the Crusaders” (here he is referring to 9/11 terror attacks). The leader of the Uzbek jihadists once again emphasised the US “the main enemy of Islam and the great Sheitan (devil) who must be beheaded.”
Abu Qatada al-Falastini as a spiritual inspirer of the Central Asian Jihadists
The Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups joined al Qaeda in two waves. The first wave began in the late 90s of the last century in Afghanistan when Uyghur militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and Salafists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan took the oath of allegiance to al Qaeda. The main role in the ideological conquest of al-Qaeda of post-Soviet Central Asia and Chinese Xinjiang was played by Osama bin Laden.TIP leader Abdul Haq was even appointed a member of al Qaeda’s elite Shura Council in 2005.
The second wave of the accession of Central Asian Salafi groups to al Qaeda occurred after the outbreak of the Syrian war. A vivid proof of this is the renewed oath of allegiance of KTJ to the al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, which we are analyzing now.
A Salafi cleric Abu Qatada al-Filistini, who was described by JTF-GTMO threat assessment as a “prominent al Qaeda spiritual leader, recruiter, and financier”, played a significant role for Central Asian militants who became members of al Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra. Today, about two thousand Uyghur, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik Jihadists are members of al Qaeda. As the most influential ideologues of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement Abu Qatada issued fatwas justifying the killing of Muslims who converted from Islam, including their wives and children, and authorizing the killing of Jews and their children.
Abu Saloh confesses that he consulted with Abu Qatada and received his blessing for joining KTJ to al Qaeda.It was then Abu Qatada offered to give the name “Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad” to the Central Asian militant group, which was welcomed by Abu Saloh.The leader of the Uzbek militants calls Abu Qatada “Great Ulama (scholar interpreter of Islamic doctrine and law), which, like a ray of light, illuminates the path of Jihad.”
At the end of his speech, Abu Saloh informs his militants about his last meeting with the Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani, and about a joint agreement to liberate Palestine after the conquest of Damascus.It should be noted that the liberation of Jerusalem from Israel is the program goal of Ayman al Zawahiri because Palestine remaining a cause to mobilize Sunni Salafi-Jihadi groups around al Qaeda.
Abu Saloh concludes his speech by congratulating his militants on joining al Qaeda. “Today, our Jamaat has become a member of the Great Umah, now we have embarked on the path of holy Jihad. Now we are responsible not only for our Jamat but also for Great Umah. May Allah bless our bayat.”Again “Takbeer” sounds from the crowd. In confirmation of the bayat, all shout “Allahu Akbar”.
As is known, the US State Department designated Central Asian jihadist groups Katibat Imam al Bukhari and Turkestan Islamic Party that joined al Qaeda as global terrorist organizations. But despite the fact that KTJ Jihadists have increased their stature among global terrorist groups over the past five years, and are receiving assistance from al Qaeda and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the US State Department has not yet included it in the list of global terrorist organizations.
An analysis of the activities of KTJ showed that it had turned into an aggressive agitator and successfully carried out the al Qaeda ideology’s propaganda. Central Asian countries and Russia have recognized KTJ as a terrorist organization.KTJ was accused by Russia’s Federal Security Service of the terror attack on St. Petersburg’s metro in April 2017. The Kyrgyz authorities blamed Abu Saloh for the attack on the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek on August 30, 2016. But this did not stop the terrorist activities of KTJ. Even al Qaeda-linked TIP and KTJ opened two madrasas in Syrian Idlib where Uyghur and Uzbek children study Salafism.
In this regard, it would be advisable for the US Government and the UN to take punitive measures against KTJ. Since, after the US government announced Katibat Imam al Bukhari as a global terrorist organization, its anti-American, Zionist rhetoric and propaganda of al Qaeda’s ideology markedly subsided.