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Top Uzbek Jihadist Leader Suffers for Loyalty to Al Qaeda

Well-known Uzbek jihadist leader Abu Saloh

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The recent arrest of a well-known Uzbek jihadist leader Abu Saloh al Uzbeki (Sirajuddin Mukhtarov) by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and thereafter resumption of armed clashes between former and current al Qaeda’s jihadi formations in northwest Syria in June 2020 will directly affect the activities of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), dozens were killed during an armed clash between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), former al Qaeda’s strongest branch in Syria, and the newly formed alliance led by current al Qaeda’ s-affiliate Hurras al-Din (HD).

It should be noted that on June 16, 2020, the HTS arrested the fierce ideologist of al Qaeda and former emir of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) Abu Saloh, which caused tension among Russian-speaking militants in Sham and raised eyebrows of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. A week later, on June 22, the HTS arrested its former senior commander, member of the group’s Shura Council Abu Malek al-Talli, accusing him of fomenting division, insurrection and disarray after his new faction Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar helped establish an al Qaeda-leaning operations room in Idlib.

The cruelty of the HTS’ repressive apparatus towards its former members and the armed clashes between jihadist groups in Idlib was caused by the creation of the new Joint Operations Center Fathbutou (Be Steadfast) on 12 June 2020, which included al Qaida-inspired “hardliners” such as HD, Jabhat Ansar al-Din (JaD), Tansiqiyat al-Jihad (TJ), Ansar al-Islam (AI) and Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar (LMA).

Militants of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad at training camp

Strengthening the position of al Qaeda’s allies seriously undermined the HTS’ stance in the northwestern Idlib province, where it rules over the local Salvation Government with an iron hand and where it established so-called Sharia rule. In order to maintain its status quo and keep dominant position over other rebel groups, HTS began large-scale arrests of those jihadists who broke away from its “Clear Victory Operations Room” and joined al Qaeda-linked Fathbutou Operations Center. At the personal instruction of the HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani the KTJ’s former amir Abu Saloh and its dissenting commander Abu Malek al-Talli were arrested.

If the arrest of Abu Malek al-Talli was seen as an intra-group showdown, the arrest of Abu Saloh caused a broad resonance among al Qaeda members in Central Asia and the Middle East, and it was widely reported in the Arabic, English and Russian press. The US FDD’s Long War Journal devoted twoarticles in a row to the Abu Saloh’s arrest and carefully assessed his Jihadi activity, with one exception. The Washington-based hawkish think tank, for some reason, never mentions the fact that Abu Saloh and his KTJ fighters swore allegiance (bayat) to al Qaeda, and that the main reason for Abu Saloh’s conflict with HTS and his current dissident demarche is related to his unwillingness to break the bayat to al Qaeda.

But some Arab and Russian media were also inaccurate in assessing the reasons for his arrest. Especially Russian experts on the Telegram channel, referring to Zaman alWasl, the Syrian outlet close to HTS, claimed that Abu Saloh was arrested for financial debts (over$ 60,000) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

KTJ jihadists attack the Syrian Army in Saraqib city, February 2020

However, such a simplistic and superficial assessment neglects to analyze the complex processes taking place inside the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups and the influence of al Qaeda’s ideology on them. The true reasons for Abu Saloh’s demonstrative demarche, who defied Syria’s most powerful militant faction, are due to his ideological differences with HTS and the dominance of al Qaeda’s global ideology among Uzbek and Uyghur Islamists.

Abu Saloh’s radical supporters see the future of Holy Jihad not only within the framework of only one state, as the HTS in Syria does. They are seriously worried about the future of global Jihad in the event of the fall of Syria’s last bastion of resistance if the Assad regime were to succeed in retaking the Idlib province entirely.

In his Jummah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) speeches, he urges jihadists not to “get stuck” in one place, but “to rush to the aid of those Muslims where they need the help of the Warriors of Allah.” That is, his views on global jihad are compatible with the ideological doctrine of al Qaeda.

Abu Saloh’s position on the problem of Jerusalem is identical with al Qaeda. He believes that the Al-Aqsa Mosque can only be liberated with the help of jihad. He claimed that after the victory of jihad in Syria, their path will be directed to Palestine.

Abu Saloh Between Two Fires: Al Qaeda and HTS

Under the Abu Saloh leadership, KTJ grew out of an unobtrusive regional group into a formidable and tough member of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. KTJ, created by him in 2013, consists of Central Asian militants, mostly Uzbeks and Kyrgyz from the Ferghana Valley.

In early 2015, Abu Saloh and his militants swore allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. In September 2015, however, KTJ rejoined the al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusrah Front (NF) as part of Al Nusrah’s efforts to consolidate various foreign groups inside Syria. Since that period, HTS has become a combat mentor of KTJ’s Uzbek militants. During this time Abu Saloh demonstrated his brilliant ability to successfully spread the al Qaeda ideology on a global scale. He was and remained a faithful and aggressive propagandist of the Jihadi idea into Central Asia.

His ideological disagreements with HTS’s predecessor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)began after it publicly distanced itself from al Qaeda, its original parent organization. Although Abu Saloh never openly criticized the Jihadi line of HTS and its leader Julani, he regularly defended the ideological views of al Qaeda’s former and current leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. And, of course, Julani, from whom Ayman al-Zawahiri openly demanded further submission to al Qaeda, did not like Saloh’s step out of HTS line

Abu Saloh’s growing authority beyond HTS and his close contacts with prominent ideologists of global Jihadism, such as Abu Qatada al-Falastini, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and others also irked Julani. Dissatisfied with his arrogant ideological behavior, HTS decided to remove Abu Saloh from the leadership of KTJ. According to the UN, in April 2019, Abdul Aziz Uzbeki (Khikmatov), a native of the Fergana Valley and deputy leader of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in Afghanistan, was elected the new leader of KTJ.

The intrigues and regional division of jihadists within KTJ also played an important role in the resignation of Abu Saloh. Being a native of southern Kyrgyzstan with Uighur roots, he was considered a “stranger” among jihadists from Uzbekistan, who make up the majority of KTJ. Together with him some jihadists from Kyrgyzstan left KTJ’s leadership.

After his resignation, he actively conducted a preaching mission for Muhajireen (foreign fighters) in Idlib, becoming the ideological mouthpiece of Central Asian jihadism. In his public speeches, he was even more deeply imbued with the ideas of al Qaeda. His Telegram channel has the largest audience among other jihadist figures of post-Soviet countries. He combined the image of a conservative Imam and a modern lecturer with stylish glasses, drawing complex diagrams of the Quran’s Surahs and Ayahs on the blackboard.

Under HTS pressure, the new KTJ leadership continued to further reduce the role of Abu Saloh when his preaching responsibilities were transferred to the new Uzbek imam, Ahluddin Navqotiy, who arrived from Turkey. From March 2020, his public audio and video performances and sermons gradually began to disappear from the KTJ’s website, which pushed him into the arms of al Qaeda.

In ideological friction between al Qaeda’s HD and HTS, which often developed into an armed clash, Abu Saloh sided with al Qaeda. On the sidelines, he supported HD’s demands handing over all of al-Qaida’s weapons from HTS to HD because Julani had broken his bayat to al Qaida. HD has consistently been at odds with HTS, criticizing the group for diluting the religion and monotheism (Tawhid), for adopting the Sochi ceasefire agreement and for establishing a modus vivendi with secular Turkey.

Amid Idlib’s local residents’ dissatisfaction with HTS policies that allowed the Russian patrols to enter the M4 highway, HD managed to convince more jihadists to join its ranks and attempted to lead a rebellion in northern Syria. Step News Agency has confirmed that Abu Saloh recently defected from HTS to Jabhat  Ansar al-Din alongside 50 other members of KTJ. HTS regarded such a step as a betrayal and arrested Abu Saloh and Abu Malek al-Talli.

After the arrest of “defectors”, the situation in Greater Idlib sharply escalated. Fathbutou slammed the arrests and accused HTS of betraying jihad and complying with the “secular” Astana agreement. HD captured checkpoints in the Harem, Armanaz, Kuku and Sheikh Bahr districts, and blocked traffic, demanding the release of the detainees. More than 30 people were killed as a result of the four-day clashes between HD and HTS.

Al Qaeda expressed its support for HD and the arrested pro-al Qaeda’s leaders, urging HTS’ jihadists not to fight against Fathbutou. Famous sheikhs Abu Qatada al Falastini, Abu Muhammad Al Makdisi, Sodik Abu Abdullah Al-Hashimi (Sudan) and others called on the conflicting parties to put down their weapons, stop the bloodshed and focus on the “revolution in Syria”. On June 26, HD and HTS signed an agreement to end the clashes, open all checkpoints, as well as unhindered exit of all civilians from conflict zone under the guarantees of Russian-speaking Jihadi groups Ajnad Al-Kavkaz and Jund Ash-Sham.

Despite the reached “peace” agreements, Abu Saloh still remains in prison.Abu Mohammad al-Julani put forward a condition in which Abu Saloh and his accomplices would be released if they rejoined the HTS. If they refuse, HTS promised to accuse Abu Saloh of embezzlement of money and property, and apostasy against the HTS.

In conclusion, his suffering for loyalty to al Qaeda and his “spiritual heritage” will have an important impact on the development of Jihadism in Central Asia, in spreading the al Qaeda’s ideology and in attracting young Muslims to the path of religious extremism.

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Indian Chronicle: Exposing the Indian Hybrid warfare against Pakistan

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In recent years Indian hybrid warfare against Pakistan has intensified manifold to malign Pakistan Internationally through disinformation and propaganda tactics. Hybrid warfare has mainly been described as achieving war-like objectives with the help of fake news, disinformation, and propaganda. The Objectives of Hybrid warfare are mostly to secure long term victory against the opponent. Similarly, India has launched massive hybrid warfare against Pakistan, which was uncovered by EU DisinfoLab in its report called “Indian Chronicle”.

EU DisinfoLab is an independent organization working to expose and tackle disinformation campaigns targeting the European Union and its member states. The organization has claimed that the disinformation campaign against Pakistan has been active since 2005, “a massive online and offline 15-year ongoing influence operation supporting Indian interests and discrediting Pakistan internationally”.

In a recent investigation EU DisinfoLab has exposed a malicious Indian campaign against Pakistan. In the report, “Indian Chronicle” EU DisinfoLab has exposed the dubious use of media outlets, NGOs, and fake personnel by India to malign Pakistan. The disinformation campaign mainly targeted the United Nations and the European Union through more than 750 fake media outlets and 10 fake NGOs. According to the report, “uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticizing Pakistan repeatedly. We could tie at least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages.”

According to the report the disinformation campaign is supported by the Srivastava group. The Srivastava group has helped in “resurrected dead NGOs” to spread fake news. The report says that “Our investigation led to the finding of 10 UN-accredited NGOs directly controlled by the Srivastava Group, which our full report introduces at length. Their common trait? The fact that they all rose from the ashes of real NGOs. Indian Chronicles effectively benefited from the track record of these organizations while pursuing their agenda: discrediting Pakistan and promoting Indian interests at UN conferences and hearings,”.

Moreover, Asian News International (ANI), a major news agency in India has provided a platform for suck fake news campaigns. The aim of the Srivastava group and ANI media outlet is “to reinforce pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan (and anti-Chinese) feelings” in India, and “internationally, to consolidate the power and improve the perception of India, to damage the reputation of other countries and ultimately benefit from more support from international institutions such as the EU and the UN”.

The report claim that the organizations funded by the Srivastava group-sponsored trips for European Parliament members to Kashmir. “The organizations created by the Srivastava Group in Brussels organized trips for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Kashmir, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. Some of these trips led to much institutional controversy, as the delegations of MEPs were often presented as official EU delegations when they were in fact not traveling on behalf of the Parliament,”. Such sponsored trips aimed to build a positive image of India, while spreading disinformation about the alleged claims of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir.

Moreover, India has been actively involved in portraying Pakistan as a terrorist-sponsored state through its disinformation and fake news technique. For instance, India is lobbying strongly at FATF to put Pakistan on the blacklist.

India has also supported and sponsored Baloch separatist leaders and spread disinformation through their fake media outlets as mentioned in the EU DisinfoLab report.“These UN-accredited NGOs work in coordination with non-accredited think-tanks and minority-rights NGOs in Brussels and Geneva. Several of them – like the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM), Baluchistan House, and the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) – were directly but opaquely created by the Srivastava group,”one of the examples is Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian spy who was captured in Pakistan.

The Indian Chronicle report has exposed the dubious face of India and the administrative structure of the United Nations and the European Union. Indian involvement in the spread of disinformation and resurrection of dead people and NGOs has exposed its long-standing for Human rights and democracy. Meanwhile, the reports have also exposed the administrative structure of the UN and EU, as they failed to notice the activities of fake UN-accredited NGOs and spread of disinformation through their affiliated NGOs.

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Hybrid Warfare: Threats to Pakistani Security

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‘Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war’-Giulio Douhet

Hybrid threats are becoming a norm in Pakistan and if we want to move forward in this age of technological advancements, cybercrimes, and the use of social media, we must have a wholesome response mechanism.

Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that employs not only conventional forms of warfare but irregular with it as well. It involves propaganda, cyber-attacks, state-sponsored terrorism, electoral intervention, and many more means of multi-dimensional approaches towards war which are used by militarized non-state actors. The term ‘Hybrid’ came into use around 2005-2006 due to the Israel-Hezbollah war (“Lessons from Lebanon: Hezbollah and Hybrid Wars – Foreign Policy Research Institute” 2016) and became a hot-topic in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. Using non-confrontational means can lead to internal struggles and crumbling of the target. What direct force won’t get you can be easily achieved by infiltration and multi-faceted resources. It’s neither character of war nor its outcome that defines it as a hybrid war, but the changing tactics (“State and Non-State Hybrid Warfare” 2018). In a world where everyone, from wealthy states to those caught in throes of hunger, is armed to the teeth, there are ways to achieve socio-political objectives through the use of violent and non-violent non-state actors.

Pakistan – A Target

Pakistan has risen to incredible heights despite it being a relatively young nation and this is only proved further by the interest international players have in its internal workings. Several factors contribute to the important stature Pakistan holds in the international community such as the Pak-China alliance, its geostrategic location, military aptitude, Russian interests in the Indian Ocean, Deep Sea Gwadar Port (One Belt One Road Project), neighbor to Afghanistan (a country existing as a battleground for proxies), etc. All these reasons make sure to keep Pakistan on the radar.

Though it may be secure militarily, Pakistan is still vulnerable to hybrid threats due to internal dynamics, numerous conflicting interests of nations in state-affairs, and increasing non-state actors. South Asian nuclearization has all but guaranteed that a full-fledged war between Pakistan and India is unlikely therefore the latter uses hybrid warfare to weaken Pakistan from within.

Evolutionary Nature of War

There was truth to Heraclites’s words when he claimed that change is the only constant in our world. The social theory of evolutionary change tells us that individuals, communities, societies, and states are always in a state of motion, continuously evolving according to the era. War is born from man, it is only fair that if a man changes, so shall war. It has become more complex; the stakes have raised from territorial boundaries to the maintenance of world order and preservation of state sovereignty. Wars are no longer fought on the borders, skirmishes aside, the real destruction takes place within. Due to the paradigm shift after the Cold War (Ball 2018), there rose a need for legal, economical, socio-political, and informational means of warfare. It is used as a way to undermine other nation-states in pursuit of national power; the international system is not only a race but also a way to tear others down.

Threats to Pakistani Security

To secure Pakistan from all sides, we must first analyze the threats it faces from all sides. Conventional Warfare used to be seen as one dimensional and it only perceived assault to be done through the land, air, or sea channels. However, now it is fought in various intangible zones.

·         External

India

India is a budding regional hegemon due to its political and economic growth including hidden agendas. Pakistan is perceived to be a direct threat to India especially after the launch of the CPEC project, perceived to be undermining its hold over the region, which is why it is employing stratagems of hybrid warfare to internally weaken Pakistan. Till now India has used State-Sponsored terrorism, funded insurgencies, operated terror cells, and even sent fighter jets into Pakistani Airspace as an attempt to ruin its reputation in the international community.

Afghanistan

There has been growing instability in Afghanistan which has led to mass migrations across the porous border into Pakistan, with around 1.4 million registered Afghans (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2018) and 1 million unregistered (“Amnesty International” 2019). India has its claws in Afghan matters as well and will use it to exploit Pakistan’s weaknesses even after US forces leave the arena. Afghan Government’s poor administrative capability especially after the return of DAESH (Tribune 2020) and Tehrik-e-Taliban Afghanistan are threats to Pakistan as well as regional peace and are a major cause of lawlessness in the country and has a spillover effect for its neighbors.

Iran

Ideologically speaking, Iran is a sectarian threat to Pakistan and its Port Chahbahar stands to lose active traffic once CPEC is fully functional which means it stands as an instigator of hybrid warfare and it would be a risk to overlook it based on past good relations.

USA

Even after the Cold War, strategic rivalry and animosity between the powers including Russia, America, and China still exist. The emergence of China as an economic superpower is perceived as a threat to the US due to which there is a major shift in its defensive posture towards the region.

The US has shown significant interest in Pakistan due to its geo-strategic location but not all interest has yielded positive results. They carried out a surgical strike for the capture and assassination of Osama-Bin-Laden. Such a breach of sovereignty and security is a hybrid threat.

·         Internal

Sectarian

There are several lobbies in Pakistan all vying for their own cause. The Iranian lobby has sectarian undercurrents. Sectarianism has always been one of the leading factors of the divide in the Muslim civilization and is the rising trend of terrorism.Such conflict itself is volatile and is deepening the rift between different sects(Shia-Sunni) of Pakistan, causing unrest.

Economic

Rising prices of commodities such as flour and sugar can lead to social unrest and discord. Such industries and their stocks are under the thumb of a select few, the elites. With the right bribes and conditions, even they would agree to sell out society.

Non-State Actors

Non-state actors are groups or organizations that have influence in the state but work independently and have their socio-political agendas (“Towards a Typology of Non-State Actors in ‘Hybrid Warfare’: Proxy, Auxiliary, Surrogate and Affiliated Forces” 2019). They work on political opportunities and mobilized grievances. Groups like BLA (Balochistan Liberation Army), TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are some of the major actors. Pakistan needs to focus on curbing Jihadist Terrorism as it is keeping it from leaving the grey list of FATF.

·         Technological

Information

It refers to the spread of miscommunication. Propaganda and circulation of false news through social media are a relatively common way to cause turmoil in a community. Once a rumor is circling, there is no way to erase it. India claims that Pakistan is spreading the false narrative of ‘Islam being in danger’ to justify its actions, although untrue, is something that the Indians fully believe now. That Pakistani Intelligentsia is made solely to create narratives under which to attack India. Such beliefs further antagonize the states against each other.

Indian Chronicles are a prime example of information warfare being waged against Pakistan.

Cyber

Channels such as Cyber-Jihad and Dark Web come under the purview of cyber warfare and are a threat to the fabric of society and its security in Pakistan.

Given the above discussed bleak prevailing internal security situation, Pakistan needs to formulate a short to mid and long-term response that curbs all external and internal parties alongside proxies from infiltrating and influencing the working of the state and affecting the masses.

For a full-spectrum approach, all domains should be covered such as diplomacy, defense, internal and external security, economic, informational, cyber, and media security.

There are steps to be followed through for active and effective quelling of hybrid threats. First, a strategy must be put for, then tactical action should be taken and lastly, the implementation process should be supervised and fully followed through.

The main focus of the state should be on deterrence towards, protection from, and prevention of hybrid threats to the state.

One must not forget that Hybrid war is a mix of both unconventional and conventional warfare, therefore a nation-wide response should include the intertwined operational capabilities of armed forces alongside political actors. Pakistan sees its security being threatened both by internal factors and external hostile/proxy elements. This is hampering state development. State-building and nation-building must go hand in hand if counter and deter such threats effectively.

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The Impact of Management in Information Security

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Authors: Sajad Abedi and Mahdi Mohammadi

Due to the increasing role of information security in the management of any society, public and private organizations and institutions are inevitably required to provide the necessary infrastructure to achieve this. In addition to material resources, management techniques also have a great impact on the optimal and successful implementation of information security management systems. The recording of management standards in the field of ICT information security can be designed in a planned way to change the security situation of organizations according to the needs of the organization and ensure security in terms of business continuity and to some extent at other levels (crisis management and soft war). Despite extensive research in this area, unfortunately for various reasons, including the level of security of the issue for governmental and non-governmental institutions or the direct relationship of the field with their interests, clear and useful information on how to implement and prioritize the implementation of a system over the years. The past has not happened until today.

The protection of the organization’s information resources is essential to ensure the successful continuation of business activities. The fact that information and information assets play a key role in the success of organizations has necessitated a new approach to protecting them. Until now, risk analysis and management has been used to identify the information security needs of the organization. After analyzing the risks, security controls were identified and implemented to bring the risks to an acceptable level. But it seems that risk analysis is not enough to identify the information security needs of the organization. Evidence of this claim is that risk analysis does not take into account legal requirements, regulations and other factors that are not considered as risk, but are mandatory for the organization.

Identifying, assessing and managing information security risks is one of the key steps in reducing cyber threats to organizations and also preventing the unfortunate consequences of security incidents that make organizations more prepared to face cyber risks. The risk assessment process, which is the first phase of a set of risk management activities, provides significant assistance to organizations in making the right decision to select security solutions. Risk assessment is actually done to answer the following questions: * If a particular hazard occurs in the organization, how much damage will it cause? * What is the probability of any risk occurring? * Controlling how much each risk costs. Is it affordable or not? The results of risk assessment can help in the correct orientation in choosing solutions (which is to eliminate the main threats) and can also be used in formulating and modifying the security policies of the organization. Risk management is a comprehensive process used to determine, identify, control, and minimize the effects and consequences of potential events. This process allows managers to strike the right balance between operating costs and financial costs, and to achieve relevant benefits by protecting business processes that support the organization’s goals. The risk management process can greatly reduce the number and severity of security incidents that occur in the organization. Risk management has 5 steps, which are: 1. Planning: At this stage, how to manage potential risks in the organization is determined and completed by developing a risk management plan. This plan defines the risk management team, defines the roles and responsibilities of individuals and the criteria for assessing identified risks. Documented. 2. Identification: At this stage, team members gather around each other, identify potential hazards, and record them in the organization’s risk list. Arranging group brainstorming sessions is a good way to identify hazards 3. Assessment: In this step, the assessment of identified risks is performed using the criteria defined in the risk management plan. Risks are assessed based on their probability of occurrence and possible consequences.

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