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Did Central Asia’s Jihadists Challenge Al Qaeda?

Uran Botobekov

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Jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party

Uzbek and Uyghur Muhajireen support HTS

First-time al Qaeda-linked Salafi-Jihadi groups from Central Asia, Caucasus and China’s Xinjiang fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in northern Syria have interfered in ideological disputes and internal confrontations between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Tanzim Hurras al-Din, the Guardians of Religion, which has remained loyal to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Foreign fighters groups in Idlib such as the Uyghurs’ Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), the Uzbeks’ Katibat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (KTJ) and the Chechen-led Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) affirmed their support to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in a joint statement released in February 2019.Also, the statement was signed by the Albanian militants group Katibat al-Alban, Iran’s Harakat al-Muhajireen al-Sunna, Saudi Arabia’s Rabitat al-Ma’ali, the Maldivian Mujahideen and other smaller foreign groups fighting under the leadership of HTS.

Thus, foreign speaking Salafi-Jihadi groups violated their traditional balanced ties with al Qaeda’s various branches and first time openly supported one of the sides of the confrontation. As is well known, Uzbek and Uyghur militants have always tried to keep their neutrality, without interfering intra-jihadi rivalries between HTS and other al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

In the one-page and three paragraphs statement, foreign fighters are clearly stated their strong support and loyalty to HTS.The first paragraph states that “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, represented by its leadership and fighters, is the dignity and the force of Ahl al-Sunnah [Sunni Islam] in Bilad al-Sham”. Further, statement authors poured to HTS generous words of praise that “it is the best to have borne the banner of jihad in this blessed land; the one that defends the frontlines; it has protected Muslims security and established the courts that rule by God’s law in all the areas subjected to them”. Special attention is paid to the centralized role of HTS “around whose leadership the mass of the Ansar [natives] and Muhajireen [foreign fighters] has gathered”.

Then, they turn to other opponent groups that “we are with our brothers in one rank and a structured edifice, and we will stand as a barrier of obstruction before all who take it upon themselves to attack HTS.” Thus, foreign groups gave a clear signal to other branches of al Qaeda that they are ready to take a bullet for themselves for the HTS and they will defend it in arms.

The second paragraph of the statement is devoted to the relations between Ansar and Muhajireen, who are militants from Central Asian and the Caucasus, who made Hijrah (migration of Muslims) to Syria for jihad. The Muhajireen are very worried that their interests are not being taken into consideration. According to the authors, “the interest of the Muhajireen is the same as the interest of the Ansar, the masses of the Muslims in al-Sham, and they cannot be separated from each other. Because Muhajireen came to this blessed land of Sham at the call of Allah and do not claim particular interests and particular rights. Both belong to the Muslims Ummah and what comes upon them comes upon others besides them.”

Then, foreign militants raised the sore question that “some local groups want to use them [Muhajireen] who came from all over the world to Syria for holy jihad as a bargaining chip to be handed over to ‘disbelievers’.” The authors noted, “we will not be content that they [opponents of HTS] should be a door for auction to support a faction over another besides it, for their [HTS] support is truly well-known in its ways and there is not from that auction in their name.” Then the foreign fighters thanked the HTS for its strong support, reception and granting of refuge to Muhajireen and called it the best of Ansar.

In the letter’s third paragraph foreign fighters turned to other al-Qaeda-backed groups and warned that they should not accept the false accusations of the HTS address at face value and advised them to verify and investigate it. They called for the conciliation and unity of all Mujahideen to lead together jihad in the path of Almighty God.

There are several reasons why al Qaeda-backed foreign fighter groups support HTS.

Muhajireen and Ansar: Brothers or Rivals?

At the timethe Syrian government forces with the support of Moscow and Tehran have achieved significant success in regaining control over the main part of the country, the question of the withdrawal of foreign militants from the region is often being raised not only by Damascus’ sponsors but also by the local influential Salafi groups too.

It should be noted that Syria’s northwest, long a hotbed of armed resistance and the heartland of al-Qaeda-linked operations, has become a real-life shelter for the foreign militants from the former Soviet Union and Chinese Xinjiang. Among them the Uzbek groups Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad and Katibat Imam al-Bukhari,Uyghur’s Turkestan Islamic Party and Chechen’s Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar are affiliated with al Qaeda. All of these groups are fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad under the leadership of HTS. They share al Qaeda’s ideological doctrine and, on its call, performed Hijrah from Afghanistan and Central Asia to Syria.

The presence of al Qaeda-backed foreign militant groups in Idlib greatly irritates Moscow and Tehran. During regular meetings, the leaders of the so-called “guarantor countries of the Syrian peace process” – Russia, Turkey and Iran – constantly reaffirm the determination to eliminate HTS’ predecessor “Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups associated with al Qaeda or ISIS”. The main responsibility for forcing the withdrawal of al Qaeda-backed foreign groups from Idlib obligated Turkey, the initiator of the Sochi Memorandum to accomplish this. But, so far, Ankara has not succeeded in fully complying with its obligations to withdraw the militants and heavy weaponry from the demilitarized zone.

Because Ankara has limited opportunities to influence foreign militant groups associated with al Qaeda in Syria. The main obstacle on this path is HTS which took under its wing of protection the Turkestan Islamic Party, Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar not only from Assad’s regime but also from possible attacks by other Salafi-Jihadi rival groups.HTS remains the most powerful Islamist group in Syria. During the last three months, HTS had expanded its territories and imposed control over 90% of Idlib, the last major opposition stronghold, inflicting a crushing defeat on the rival rebel groups Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Ahrar al-Sham, the members of the Turkey-allied National Liberation Front. Therefore, Muhajireen from post-Soviet countries and China feel secure under the umbrella of HTS.

The HTS leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani considers that on the question of mutual relations between Muhajireen and Ansar his group relies on Islamic values when the local inhabitants [Ansar] of Medina warmly welcomed, provided shelter and supported the Prophet Muhammad and his followers [Muhajireen], who had left their homes behind for the sake of Islam in 622.At the beginning of the Syrian civil war Jabhat al-Nusra provided Muhajireen, who migrated from Central Asia and joined al Qaeda, the opportunity to live in separate villages in the northwestern Syria’s countryside where they could lead jihad against the forces of Damascus. Thanks to HTS support the Turkestan Islamic Party, Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad and Katibat Imam al-Bukhari have taken deep root in Syria soil where they opened several madrasahs in which militants’ children receive the education in Uzbek and Uyghur languages. In recent times, cases of joint marriages between Muhajireen and Ansar have become more frequent.

Abu Abdullah al-Shami, the head of HTS’ Shariah Council and the group’s highest ideologue, in his article entitled “Six Issues” clearly defined the position of the HTS regarding Muhajireen. He claims that “HTS will not compromise on its principle of refusing to barter with the Muhajireen. We do not do something that does not please our Lord. We consider it forbidden to hand over the Muslims to the disbelievers [the states]. And the Muhajireen are our brothers and we do not see a difference between a Muhajireen and Ansar, and our throats are beneath the throat of the one who has migrated to us, and we will not allow bartering on their portfolio in any circumstances, for besides the fact that it is in contravention of the Shari’a principles, it is far removed from Islamic ethics and chivalry.”

The strong support of HTS for Muhajireen fully meets the military and religious goals of Uzbek and Uyghur fighters who made Hijrah to Syria for jihad.In turn, they respond to the HTS with reciprocity and devotion to the ideals of jihad and with respect for Ansar.Abu Saloh, the leader of Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad, during the Bayat (oath of allegiance) to al Qaeda stated that Abu Mohammad al-Julani is the lion of Islam, who never uses Muhajireen as a bargaining chip. He compared the HTS leader with the founder of the Taliban movement, the late Mullah Omar, who provided Muhajireen at the head of Osama bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan to conduct jihad against America. According to him, after 9/11, even under the threat of the US military intervention to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Mullah Omar did not betray bin Laden to crusaders and remained faithful to Islamic values of Muhajireen until the end of his life.

HTS’s Controversial Turkey policy

Russian and Turkic speaking foreign fighter groups are supporting HTS rapprochement with Turkey which has long been a sensitive issue causing problems among global Salafi-Jihadi movements. Turkey’s factor and the forced collaboration of HTS with Ankara caused sharp criticism from al Qaeda, his loyalist Tanzim Hurras al-Din and many ideologues of Salafism.

In a speech entitled “The Way of Salvation” and published on 5 February 2019, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri criticized HTS for clinging to territory under Turkey’s protection, albeit not mentioning the group explicitly. He rebuked HTS for relying too heavily on Turkish support and its desire to hold onto ground at all costs. In his opinion, the jihadists in Syria are engaged in a misguided “competition for an imagined authority” over territory that is under the oversight “of secular Turkish checkpoints.” Zawahiri strictly warned the jihadists that they shouldn’t rely on Turkey to protect them. The main point of the appeal of the al Qaeda emir is that the HTS jihadists instead, of holding onto Idlib province as a proto-Emirate, it would be better for them to go underground and conduct continuous jihad against the Bashar al Assad regime, Zionists and America.

The HTS’ position on Turkey was sharply criticized by one of the most important spiritual fathers of the Salafi-Jihadi ideology Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi, who considers that any diplomatic or military ties with non-Muslim rulers count as “sinful wala’.” For Maqdisi, allowing Turkey to control any land at all in Syria is equivalent to allowing the criminal, apostate regime to do so, and makes HTS dangerously close to violating Tawḥid.

The decision of the HTS to allow Turkish troops to enter Syria and establish 12 military posts in Idlib agreed upon at Astana on October 2017 was also heavily criticized by Tanzim Hurras al-Din.The Hurras al-Din amir Abu Hammam al-Shami and its Chief Sharia Counsel Sami al-Uraydi published a statement on 30 January 2019, in which they argued that HTS’s jihad is not founded on correct Aqida (Islamic creed) or Manhaj (Methodology of the Salaf us-Saalih). Further, the leaders said some of HTS’s weapons belong to al Qaeda, and since Hurras al-Din now represents al Qaeda in Syria it is the rightful owner of the weapons.

Along with authoritative ideologues, ordinary supporters of al Qaeda accused the HTS of thwarting its own jihad by forming relations with the NATO army [Turkey] and considered it a traitor. But they could not blame HTS for apostasy.

HTS Shura Council member Abu Al-Fatah al-Farghali denied all this accusations and named three conditions under which the Turks were allowed to enter Idlib that were based on the Shari’a. First, the military superiority in the liberated areas should be for the mujahideen and not the secular Turkish army. Secondly, the Turks should not intervene in ruling or administering the liberated areas in any circumstances or forms, so as not to violate the Sharia rule. Thirdly, the decision of peace and war in the liberated areas should be in the hands of the mujahideen and not the Turkish army. He concluded that today all three conditions are strictly enforced according to the doctrine of loyalty and disavowal (al-wala’ wa-l-bara’).

The vitriolic debate and ideological violent controversy between HTS and Hurras al-Dinal most turned into an armed confrontation, during which an HTS fighter was killed in a checkpoint in southern Aleppo on February 7, 2019.The Central Asian’s Muhajireen were worried that a conflict between al-Qaeda’s former allies was causing damage to the common goals of Jihad. As a result, on February 10, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din reached anew agreement, in which both organizations swore to end their war of words and cooperate against their common enemy. HTS and HAD agreed that an Islamic court would handle the controversial issues between the parties.

As we noted at the beginning of our article, the Uzbeks’ KTJ and Uyghurs’ TIP suggested that the Ansars resolve the dispute through an Islamic court, where they promised to protect the HTS with a weapon in the event of an attack on it. They hope for the justice of Islamic scholars at the head of Abu Qatada al-Filastini, who became a member of the Islamic court review the case. It should be noted that Abu Qatada al-Filastini played a key role in joining the Uzbek group KTJ to al Qaeda and HTS.

Uzbek and Uyghur militants support HTS in its pursuit to choose the lesser of two evils and do not see in its forced cooperation with Turkey violating the doctrine of loyalty and disavowal of Salafism in waging Jihad. Muhajireen do not oppose Ankara’s initiatives to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib jointly with Moscow. This is due to several factors.

First, the cultural, linguistic and kinship community with the Turks plays an important role, and they consider Turkey’s initiative helped delay for one year a possible attack by the Assad army, Iran’s Shiite proxy forces and the Russian Aerospace Forces on Idlib. During this time, the Muhajireen and the Ansar were able to prepare for a future battle.

Second, the Uyghurs Muhajireen view Turkey as the only country that provides them with moral and political support in the face of Chinese repression. More than 50 thousand Uyghurs live in Turkey who fled from Beijing’s persecution and Ankara condemned China’s Islam policy .In this regard, the Uyghurs are trying to pay back for this act of kindness. Some Uyghur Muhajireen participated in the military Operation Olive Branch along with the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army to liberate Afrin in March 2018.

Thirdly, in the Kurdish question, the ideological position of the Central Asian militants coincides with the position of the HTS, who consider Kurdish YPG and PKK as communist organizations and unbeliever (kafir) groups.

The future of Central Asia’s Muhajireen in Idlib’s Safe-Haven

The ideological contradictions and continuous clashes between the rival rebel groups in Syria clearly characterize not only the current state of relations between former al Qaeda allies, but also the complex transformation that occurs within the global Sunni Salafi-Jihadi movement.

In this regard it should be noted that the statement of foreign fighters in support of HTS will have far-reaching consequences. Now, the prospect of finding Uyghur, Uzbek and Caucasian salafi groups on Syrian soil and their participation in global jihad in Middle East will depend on the position of the HTS. It can be expected that further deepening of the contradictions between HTS and al Qaeda in the near future will raise the question for foreign fighters about the choice of a strategic partner, because TIP and KTJ are members of al Qaeda, but at the same time they support the position of HTS in its dispute with al Qaeda.

After the defeat of the last stronghold of ISIS in al-Baghuz the attention of the regional powers will now be focused on the HTS, which built a prototype of the Caliphate, the so-called “Government of Salvation” in Idlib, which is managed on the basis of Sharia. However, HTS’s pursuit to distance itself more and more from al Qaeda and its desire to transform itself into a participant in the political dialogue of the Syrian conflict will force it to distance itself from the foreign Muhajireen. Therefore, in the near future, Uzbek and Uyghur Muhajireen will have to flee from Idlib or they await the bitter fate of ISIS.

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Terrorism

Who are the Real Terrorists in North East Syria?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Earlier this week President Trump abruptly changed course and green-lighted a Turkish incursion into north east Syria with disastrous results. The subsequent invasion has unleashed a hellish nightmare of carnage and chaos in what was a dangerous, but relatively peaceful, area governed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who had just defeated ISIS territorially.

In recent days, over 30 civilians—including Kurds, Christians and minorities, and very young children—have been killed in indiscriminate Turkish bombings and mortar fire. Likewise, the UN reports that over 130,000 Syrians have suddenly become displaced, fleeing Turkish violence. In addition to these massive displacements, Turkey insists that it will forcibly repatriate 1 to 2 million of the 3 million Syrian refugees it is currently housing back into the SDF-held areas it is now overtaking. That 83% of these Arabs never lived in the areas they are to be forcibly resettled in, begs the question of whose homes and lands will they be overtaking? 

Turkey claims to be fighting a terrorist group and wanting to clean their border area of terrorists, but the pictures coming out of northeast Syria instead make Turkey look like the terrorist aggressor. Countless photos and videos, many of them validated, circulate of Syrian civilians lying bloodied and dead on the ground while their family members wail unconsolably. Hevrin Khalaf, a female, and the Secretary-General of the pro-Kurdish Future Syria Party, is reported to have been dragged from her car and assassinated by Turkish-hired thugs who said while filming her corpse, “this is the corpse of pigs.” Likewise, video footage of bearded mercenary soldiers backed by the Turks, shooting their Kurdish captives while calling them “kufar scum” (unbelievers) are said by U.S. forces to appear authentic. If so, these actions are war crimes.

These bearded assassins, backed by Turkey are likely the same unemployed ISIS, al Nusra, and other former jihadists still happy to kill in the name of Allah, who Turkey used to clear Afrin in 2018. Indeed, they have shown a brutality akin to their mother groups, some even shouting ISIS slogans as they kill, such as “Baqiya wa tatamadad!” meaning we (ISIS) will remain forever, and expand. 

That Turkey would use former ISIS cadres to fight the Kurds is no surprise, given they worked closely with ISIS to try to quell the Kurds early on in the Syrian conflicts and continue to see their interests in destroying Kurdish power to lie with militant jihadist and Islamist groups. An ISIS emir that ICSVE interviewed in 2019 went into great detail about his work on behalf of ISIS, about how he negotiated with the Turkish MIT and military regarding border entry for the 40,000+ foreign fighters that streamed across Turkey into ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, agreements for sending wounded ISIS fighters back into Turkey for medical treatment, supplying water for the Tabqa dam to provide electrical power for ISIS, and so on. According to this emir, even then, Turkey was insisting on a buffer security zone. Now it appears they will go to any lengths to get it.

Meanwhile, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi told U.S. Ambassador William Roebuck, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS “You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered.” He also asked in confused despair how the U.S. could also insist that the Kurds not turn to others, like the Russians for support, effectively boxing them in for slaughter.

When ISIS foolishly attacked Kobani in 2014, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) rose up and fought valiantly and since 2015, they fought with U.S. military backing, to defeat ISIS.  They have been our “boots on the ground”, sustaining most of the casualties and doing all the heavy lifting in defeating a global foe. While U.S. forces lost less than 20 troops after they aligned with the Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria, our hardy allies lost 11,000 male and female brave fighters who faced down this global foe.

Indeed, while ISIS was an active force on the ground in Syria, it external emni (intelligence arm), threatened the globe, mounting and inciting attacks in many major cities from New York, to Brussels (where two Americans were killed), to Paris, Nice, Stockholm, London and Istanbul to name but a few.

In serving as our “boots on the ground” forces for the territorial defeat of ISIS, and continuing to battle the remnants of ISIS, the Kurds saved, and continue to save, countless Americans and Westerners from being slaughtered by a heinous force willing to attack, anywhere, at any time.  

Yet their current aggressor, Turkey, calls these Kurds terrorists. That picking up arms against ISIS gave them the sudden opportunity to rule a considerable swathe of Syrian land that they had liberated from ISIS is no one’s fault, except those who supported ISIS in the first place—Turkish government officials among them. No doubt, the Kurds once in power, made some mistakes, but it is notable how quickly they moved to incorporating minorities into their ranks and transitioning to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have had a good record of building a grassroots democracy amidst the ashes of war. That their majority Kurdish leadership may have long-term aspirations to one day become a fully independent Kurdish state should be no surprise, but that they were acquiescing to all U.S. demands upon them to remain within Syria and negotiate some kind of governance agreement with Assad also needs to be noted. The trouble in that regard, is Assad wants to appoint top-down leaders in the area and thereby destroy the grass-roots nature of the Kurdish democracy building. From a position of strength and good governance, with U.S. backing behind them, the SDF had a chance of becoming a real island of democracy, perhaps even one day spreading such, within the Syrian state.

In the meantime, with ISIS defeated territorially, ISIS is still far from total defeat. In recent months ISIS has been attacking on a weekly basis in both Syria and Iraq, and the SDF were busy rounding up ISIS sleeper cells while also holding more than 70,000 ISIS prisoners and their family members, thousands of which are from European and Western countries who have refused to repatriate and bring them home to justice.

Now, amidst the chaos unleashed by Turkey, up to 800 ISIS cadres have escaped when their prison was shelled, with hundreds more ISIS women and children escaping from their bombed and burning camps. Where they will run to amidst the chaos is uncertain, but Turkey and beyond, is certainly a possibility given that when cornered in Hajin, and later Baghouz, SDF leaders told ICSVE that ISIS leaders were asking to be bussed out of Syria into Turkey—presumably believing they would be welcomed into a country that had helped them in the past. 

500 of the worse ISIS cadres are said to have been transferred by U.S. forces from Syria, into Iraq, and possibly more will befall the same fate. For those of us who still believe in human rights and rule of law, even when applied to ISIS cadres, it’s unfortunate that in Iraq these prisoners—many of them Westerners—can expect forced confessions, hurried court proceedings and almost certainly sentence of life imprisonment, or death, based on very little, if any, evidence presented against them. Whereas, in our ISIS interviews conducted in SDF territory, with 100 of the ISIS foreign terrorist fighters, the prisoners stated that they were not being subjected to torture and were fairly treated by the SDF. Likewise, the SDF was working patiently, including in efforts with ICSVE, to gather testimonies and data to prod Western countries into action that have been reluctant to take their ISIS citizens home for prosecution.

While the SDF could only do its important work with U.S. support, this support was not costing us much. Few troops were deployed on the ground and our air support was operating out of Iraq, where it is likely the U.S. forces will stay for some time. That we should not involve ourselves in endless wars or that the troops need to come home is something most agree with, but how and when is also of great importance.

Any U.S. withdrawal of support for the SDF should only occur because they are no longer serving our interests and must take place in a planful and secure manner without allowing for an all-out slaughter of civilians or of the allied forces who, by fighting ISIS, saved Americans countless lives.

Given that the Kurds sacrificed greatly to defeat ISIS territorially on the ground, and when in power, began at once to build one of the only democracies in the middle east that is respecting minority rights and following Western rule of law, while being surrounded by dictatorial and corrupt regimes, it seems we should have continued to give them our full support. Instead Trump has unleashed Turkish forces on a group that Turkey universally treats as terrorists and is willing to violently displace and kill. This sudden betrayal of our loyal allies is a matter that needs to be quickly resolved in Washington, D.C. 

Our American ideals, and our reputation as stalwart and reliable allies, are at stake right now, and this disastrous decision needs to be reversed immediately.  

From our partner ICSVE Brief Reports.

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Strategies for combating international terrorism in Central Asia

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has been cast as the site of a new “great game”. Central Asia has been largely influenced by international developments and the emergence of persistent sources of instability and tension in other parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. Some states in the region have succeeded in expanding their relationships with other actors. For example, Kazakhstan has tried to advance its goals by participating in important international issues and designing appropriate policies. Although Kazakhstan has succeeded in this path, most of the countries in the region face major challenges.

At the moment, Central Asian states are facing serious menaces to their security from various challenges like drug trafficking, water disputes, religious fundamentalism and expansion of terrorist and takfiri groups such as ISIS.

Given the increased risk of terrorist groups infiltrating the region, the key question is: “What strategies exist to counter international terrorism in the Central Asian region?” This study suggest that an integrated long-term strategy is an effective and comprehensive way to combat international terrorism.

Central Asia and international terrorism

The war in Syria and Iraq has significantly altered modern terrorism, with radical Islamic militants from Central Asia being no exception. Most importantly, for the first time travelling outside of the region to fight in the ranks of militant and terrorist organisations became a mass phenomenon. In Syria, the radical Islamic militants from Central Asia have established terrorist organisations of their own. These terrorists have Salafi-Wahhabi inclinations and are among the backers of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, and Daesh Takfiri groups. They have turned into a potential threat for countries in Central Asia as these international and organized terrorists may one day find their way to other regions and states after Syria. 

Activities of extremist networks which send their members and devotees to Syria have a determining role in the region. Many of the foreign rebels operating in Syria had links to these groups in their own countries. A portion of them are being encouraged by their relatives and friends in Syria to join the ranks of the Takfiri militants, especially older brothers motivate the younger ones to join the terrorists.

The terrorists’ method for recruiting forces is almost the same in most of the countries in the Central Asia. They usually do this through local sources and Islamist groups and organizations that have close ties with al-Qaeda, Salafists and Wahhabists. However, this is not done openly.

A number of terrorist groups are tasked with recruiting individuals to send them to fight in Syria. In fact, all terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the al-Tahrir Party are busy with the recruitment. The Takfiri groups of al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic Jihad Union are also employing nationals from Central Asia. In some countries, the process of employment is done through indigenous people. For instance, one-third of all Kyrgyz people who have traveled to Saudi Arabia in pursuance of religious education have turned into extremist Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in Kyrgyzstan. That is why today the Kyrgyz are employing their people to prevent this. 

The Challenges of Combating Terrorism in Central Asia

Fighting terrorist threats in Central Asia is a complex issue. To counter these threats, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian governments have been reevaluating their national counter-terrorism strategies. Counter-terrorism cooperation under the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has its limits because not all the Central Asian governments are members of the organizations. Also these strategies have been mainly established to counter-terrorism within the member states, not the ones stemming from other regions. 

On the other hand, some external actors play a destructive role in improving the security situation in the region. Indeed none of the great powers are not serious fight against terrorism. At present, the security conditions of the region can be made more complicated for several reasons:

First, the spread of terrorism and extremist groups;
Second, U.S. competition to increase penetration;
Third, ISIS’s willingness to be present in the region;
Fourth, the presence of people from the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the ranks of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria;

Iran and Fighting Terrorism in Central Asia

The rising threats of extremism in Central Asia represent a strong menace for Iran interests. Due to the increasing presence of ISIS forces in Afghanistan, the security of Central Asia remains a top priority on the Iran security agenda. The Iran-Central Asia Strategy should include in its objectives the challenges of foreign fighters and radicalization, drug trafficking and organized crime, and conflicts that require cooperation between Central Asia and Iran.

No one and no country can deny the constructive and positive role of Iran in fighting the scourge of terrorism in the region and the world. Iran’s efforts and assistance to regional countries have helped reign in the violence and bloodshed of ISIS terrorist group in various parts of the world by bringing the self-proclaimed statehood of ISIS to an end in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to advocate dialogue, cooperation and trust among regional countries as the only viable way to end terrorism and devastating wars in the Middle East. In result no country would benefit from weakening Iran in the region.

In the past years, Iran has acted as a buffer zone and has prevented the entry of terrorist groups from Middle East to Central Asia. Iran has always tried to fight with terrorist and takfiri groups. Among foreign actors in the region Iran and Russia have a good cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Iran and Russia are winning the Fight against Terrorism in Syria. Undoubtedly Iran and Russia can offer their experience in combating terrorism to Central Asian countries.

Conclusion

No doubt, security, peace and respect for the sovereignty of countries, as well non-interference in their internal affairs, and an effective fight against terrorism without double standards will be in the interest of all countries in the world.

Fight against Terrorism Requires a holistic and coordinated approach. For the implementation of the international Counter Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia need a Regional Joint Action Plan. Integrating counter-terrorism strategy to political, economic and social development policies is an important part of the comprehensive approach.

In order to combat terrorism in Central Asia, there are a few issues to consider:

1. All States in region to combat terrorism must take coordinated action.

2. Fighting terrorism in Central Asia will not succeed without creating peace and stability in Afghanistan.

3. Combating terrorism requires the formation of a regional and international coalition with States that really have a concern for countering terrorism, not the countries that have been sponsors of terrorist groups.

4. The fight against terrorism requires the use of past experiences in this regard. Iran and Russia have considerable experience in combating terrorism.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Fighting Terrorism Online: EU Internet Forum committed to an EU-wide Crisis Protocol

MD Staff

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The participants of the 5th EU Internet Forum, hosted by Commissioners Avramopoulos and King, have committed to an EU Crisis Protocol – a rapid response to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Commission, Member States and online service providers, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, JustPaste.it and Snap have committed to working together on a voluntary basis within the framework set out by the Crisis Protocol, while ensuring strong data protection and fundamental rights safeguards. The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 as well as how to strengthen cooperation on other challenges, such as child sexual exploitation online.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Since I launched the EU Internet Forum 4 years ago, it has gone from strength to strength, offering Member States and online platforms an effective framework to work together to tackle terrorist content online. We have managed to build a strong relationship of trust and mutual understanding with the internet platforms. I am pleased with the progress we are making and the remarkable results we have achieved. Today, we are taking this cooperation another step further with an EU Crisis Protocol. With this, we will be ready to act quickly, effectively and in a more coordinated way to stop the spread of terrorist content.”   

Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King added: “The events in New Zealand earlier this year were a stark reminder that terrorist content spreads online at a tremendous speed. While our response might be quick, it isn’t quick enough. The Protocol is an EU response to contain the havoc created by such events – in a coordinated way.”

In the aftermath of the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, government leaders and online platforms agreed on the Christchurch Call for Action. On this occasion, President Juncker announced the development of an EU Crisis Protocol in the context of the EU Internet Forum. The EU Protocol will allow Member States and online platforms to respond rapidly and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist content online in the event of a terrorist attack.

The EU Crisis Protocol endorsed by the EU Internet Forum today will:

    Provide a coordinated and rapid reaction: Member States’ authorities, together with Europol, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and online service providers will be able to respond quickly, in a coordinated manner to ensure that the spread of terrorist or violent extremist content is swiftly contained.

    Facilitate public and private sector cooperation: In the event of a crisis, law enforcement authorities and online service providers will share relevant information on the online content (e.g., URLs, audio-visual media, and metadata) on a voluntary basis, in a secure way and in real time.

    Facilitate a voluntary arrangement: The Protocol does not replace national legal frameworks or existing national crisis management mechanisms. It should apply only to extraordinary situations where those national measures are no longer sufficient to coordinate a rapid and cross-border response.

The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 and looked at the emerging challenges. This included, for the first time, a discussion on the global threat of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Cooperation between public authorities and online platforms is key to fight against these horrible crimes effectively. Participants also took stock of the work to tackle the challenges presented by right wing extremism and the radicalising effect of violent political discourse.

Background

The EU Internet Forum was launched by Commissioner Avramopoulos in December 2015 to address internet misuse by terrorist groups. It brings together EU Home Affairs Ministers, the internet industry and other stakeholders who work together voluntarily to address this complex issue. Since its creation, the EU Internet Forum meets annually to take stock of the progress made in removing terrorist content online and to discuss emerging challenges. In 2015, an efficient referral mechanism to flag and remove terrorist content online was created at Europol.

In 2016, at the EU Internet Forum, the industry announced the creation of the “database of hashes” to make removals permanent and irreversible. The database is a critical tool in stemming the spread of terrorist content online. Since its launch, the database has gathered over 200,000 hashes (pictures, videos, etc.) and has helped both large and small platforms to remove such content quickly.

President Juncker announced the development of the EU Protocol in Paris earlier this year when he attended a meeting of government leaders and CEOs of major online platforms that was co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A first exercise to operationalise the Protocol already took place at Europol on 11 September 2019.

The EU Crisis Protocol will contribute to efforts undertaken at global level in the context of the Christchurch call, in particular the Crisis Response Protocol as announced in September at the margins of 2019 UNGA.

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