The participation of Denmark in all the key U.S. and NATO interventions in 1991–2020 did not free the country from reputational risks due to the persistent problems of equipping the Danish armed forces in accordance with the requirements of the North Atlantic Alliance. The recent news about a growing shortage of ammunition and shells in the Danish Army only seems to lend further evidence to the established tradition of the Danes lagging behind in terms of military capabilities. Chief of Defence, General Flemming Lentfer, in an interview with Danish Radio, stressed that given the available stocks of ammunition, the Danish Army was not combat-ready. Therefore, in his opinion, before planning the purchase of new equipment under a new potential multi-year defence agreement, Danish parliamentarians need to provide the existing set of weapons with sufficient ammunition. The ammunition shortage has suddenly become acute not least because in autumn 2021 the Spanish firm Expal, previously a regular supplier of the Danish Army, unexpectedly withdrew from the seven-year contract with the Danish Armed Forces. Earlier in 2020 the same Spanish firm closed down the cartridge factory in Jelling which had been producing ammunition for Danish military personnel since 1676 and had been privatized by Expal in 2008.
The delay in the key five military projects under the 2018–2023 defence agreement, including the full manning of the heavy mechanized 1st brigade in the amount of 4000 people, known as the “fist of the army” (Dan. hærens knytnæve), and especially, the scandal permeating the Military Intelligence Service of Denmark (Dan. Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE), which allegedly carried out espionage against German, Dutch, French, Swedish and Norwegian colleagues in favor of the U.S. National Security Agency, have not improved Denmark’s standing in the alliance either. But it is the troubles within the FE, namely the so-called FE scandal, which has undoubtedly grabbed most of the public and mass media’s attention. The highlights of this lengthy scandal were the arrest of four former and current surveillance officers of both the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (Dan. Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, PET) and the FE including the former FE-chief Lars Findsen on December 8, 2021 who was later released from custody on February 17, 2022 after successfully appealing his case and the former minister of defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen being officially suspected on December 20, 2021 for breaching the same paragraph as Lars Findsen of the Danish Criminal Code (Dan. Straffeloven), namely the extremely rarely used paragraph 109 known as «treason paragraph» related to revealing confidential data concerning national security or significant national economic interests abroad which has not been used by the courts since 1979. Both cases continue to be investigated behind closed doors and the precise wording of charges apart from the mentioned paragraph 109 is still unknown. Moreover, rather paradoxically, despite being suspected for the de-facto treason on national scale Claus Hjort-Frederiksen continues to participate in the Foreign Policy Committee of the Danish Parliament. Both Lars Findsen and Claus Hjort-Frederiksen demand that the content of charges against them be made known to the public, and in particular Claus Hjort Frederiksen claims that the alleged «state secrets» are in reality newspaper articles, public speeches and so on which are in public domain and could not be considered as breaching «the obligation of professional secrecy» (Dan. tavshedspligt). Claus Hjort Frederiksen has in different interviews mentioned the cooperation between the US and Danish intelligence services which allegedly made spying on foreign officials possible. But in order to prove that Claus Hjort Frederiksen’s actions were criminal, it has to be shown that his words confirmed the previous speculations about the presence of such intelligence cooperation. The development of the scandal was also accompanied by pressure on key Danish media and editors.
What does this scandal really mean for Denmark’s relations with key allies and Denmark’s democracy? Are there any significant implications whatsoever?
Threat to Democracy?
Some accounts of the frictions with and within the FE are clearly emotionally and morally driven. Edward Snowden also recently had the opportunity to speak his mind on the matter during the interview with the Danish newspaper Politiken. According to him, “it is laughable to equate whistleblowing to treason”. He also added that the idea of betraying country to a newspaper or the public sounded nonsensical. The starting point of the crisis within the FE is the historically unprecedented press release of the Danish Oversight Committee (Dan. Tilsynet med Efterretningstjenesterne, TET) in Folketing published August 24, 2020, which was a to large extent based on the information received from anonymous whistleblowers strongly criticized the FE for illegally gathering and exchanging data about Danish citizens at least since 2014 and providing the Oversight Committee with misleading information. As a result, the now former defence minister Trine Bramsen had to dismiss Lars Findsen along with two other officials from their post in the FE. The special research commission was also established December 21, 2020 in connection with the outrageous press release which openly published the conclusion of its work on December 13, 2021. According to the findings of the commission, accusations and criticism put forward earlier by the Oversight Committee proved to be unjustified.
Three of the four intelligence officers arrested on December 8, 2021 were already released the same month, but investigation of Lars Findsen’s case is still in progress. He is suspected for being connected to the three leaks which received extensive media coverage. The key Danish media citing anonymous sources during 2020-2021 brought to the public attention three dramatic cases involving the Danish intelligence services: the cooperation between the FE and the NSA on getting data from Danish underwater cables and, thus, spying on top-politicians and public servants in neighboring countries, the warning from the FE to the Danish government in September 2020 that the ISIS was kidnapping children from refugee camps in Syria (the Danish government did not follow this warning until March 2021) and the fate of the Danish operative Ahmed Samsam who was falsely accused in Spain of being an ISIS-fighter. These three events contributed to the increasing tension within the triangle of intelligence services, mass media and the government. The editors and directors of the leading Danish media such as Berlingske Media, JP/Politikens Hus, Weekendavisen and Radio LOUD have been explicitly warned by the PET and the FE that the paragraph 109 applies not only to the leaked data, but also to the information being published on newspaper pages. Most journalists perceived it as a direct intimidation. At least 8 different journalists in January 2022 have participated in interrogations during the still ongoing investigation.
It is evident that a democratic system poses a serious dilemma for secret services. On the one hand, the presence of anonymous whistleblowers proves essential to uncovering the excesses of intelligence services and the government, but on the other hand their activities undermine the effectiveness and principles of such services. In this context the present investigation is directed precisely against the «abuses» of democracy by whistleblowers rather than against undemocratic actors. Claus Hjort Frederiksen is also of the opinion that the democratic control over intelligence services might have been a bit too rigorous and some details should have been kept away from the public scrutiny, which could damage the credibility of the FE in the eyes of the American colleagues and the special relationship with the USA in general. It should be noted that Denmark is still part of the «Nine Eyes» arrangement and positioned at the center of the network of underwater cables connected to leading European powers. So the portrayal of the scandal as a threat to democracy is not quite adequate. The matter in question is the scope of democratic control over intelligence services’ activities and the degree of their transparency. This leads to a kind of conundrum when democracy is trying to punish its own excesses and inefficiencies, which in turn generates resistance from the democratic core including free press and media. Uncontrolled and unregulated whistleblowers within the FE and the PET who might eventually end up in similar situations like Lars Findsen or Claus Hjort Frederiksen and cause legal frictions is something which should be dealt with and reformed.
Denmark’s Alliance Posture
International reputation is a delicate, but an intangible asset in alliance relations. In some respects the current scandal is the continuation of the events which took place in 2013-2014. Danmarks Radio, based on anonymous sources, reports that the internal investigation under the codename “Operation Dunhammer” concluded in May 2015 revealed that the NSA had used the access to the Danish submarine communication cables to spy on top politicians in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany, including Angela Merkel, F.-W. Steinmeier and Peer Steinbrück. The Danish FE was aware of this at least since 2015 due to the internal investigation, but neither took steps to prevent this, nor informed the allies. Norway, Sweden and Germany express staunch criticism of the event and demand to be fully informed of the ongoing investigation. Either way allies seem to downplay the controversies and not to voice accusations against each other. Even when it came to the industrial espionage of Sweden’s defence capabilities, the development of a new Gripen airfighters generation in particular, the Saab representatives first described the case as insignificant and then designated it as a disinformation attempt from foreign power. The FE has so far not provided any comments on the matter and the real level of surveillance on foreign politicians and other probable targets remains uncertain. Denmark’s own defence firm Terma might have been the target of industrial espionage conducted with the help of the infamous programme XKeyscore.
It is also difficult to point out tangible political costs associated with that irresponsible behavior on the part of Denmark within the alliance except that Trine Bramsen had to step down February 4, 2022 as the defence minister. Despite Trine Bramsen being exposed to criticism for clumsily handling the FE-case, there is no clear connection between the two events. Her stepping down along with other shifts in the government composition were caused by the former transport minister Benny Engelbrecht being issued a vote of no-confidence. More broadly, it is difficult to discern the consequences of the FE-case for Denmark’s relations with Nordic neighbors and key allies. No punitive measures have been announced except the mentioned demands to share data under the investigation.
Limits of Secrecy
The unresolved question remains: how can intelligence services function effectively in an open and resilient parliamentarian democracy such as Denmark? One thing is certain though, boundaries of secrecy and classified data will consistently be challenged particularly when the public became acutely aware of surveillance, contact tracing and other dangers to personal freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. But at the same time only few would challenge the assertion that even democracies require “watchful eyes”. The recent events in Ukraine have made it all the more apparent. The genuine issue is, however, not only to expose the excesses of intelligence services’ work (it’s still necessary and to a certain extent unavoidable), but to maintain the shifting balance between democratic institutions and values which Nordic and European countries pride themselves on and preserving the necessary capabilities of intelligence services. While the results of the secret internal investigation within the FE launched in December will be shown only to selected officials by the end of this year, strengthening the Danish Oversight Committee established relatively recently in 2014, which has “a much narrower remit” as compared to its Norwegian and Swedish counterparts, instead of continued reliance on unregulated and anonymous whistleblowers could already be a step in the right direction.
From our partner RIAC
Unmasking India’s IB and RAW
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi granted a year-long extension in service to retiring heads of India’s Intelligence bureau (Arvind Kumar) and the Research and Analysis Wing (Samant Kumar Goel). Both officers are specialists in the art of disinformation and insurgency. They masterminded the so-called Blakote strikes inside Pakistan. Besides, they mounted a world-wide Pakistan-bashing campaign that resulted in Pakistan’s isolation in comity of nations. Pakistan FATF woes could veritably be attributed to the machinations of the said two officers. They are protégé of India’s national security czar Ajit Doval. Doval himself boasts of having carried out covert activities in Pakistan for about eleven years. He did not care a fig for violating the diplomatic norms while posted in Pakistan.
Difference between the Intelligence Bureau and RAW
The common belief is that the IB and the RAW have separate domains. But, in actual fact, the both organisations coordinate their activities. Like the RAW, the IB also has its offices abroad. In his book, RAW: A History of India’s Covert Operations, Yatish Yadav make startling disclosures about activities of India’s intelligence agencies. In a chapter titled “Hunting the RAW traitor”, he reveals the career of the RAW agent Rabinder Singh, an ex-Army man who sold national secrets to the CIA for money. Singh was outwardly a religious person who had a penchant for quoting from Hindu religious book Bhagwad Gita. He led parallel lives and passed on classified information to the foreign power. Although given asylum in the U.S., he was soon forsaken by the CIA and met with an unexplained road accident there. The accident was masterminded by the RAW.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) is the national domestic internal security and counter-intelligence agency that works under the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was formed as the ‘Central Special Branch’ on December 23, 1887, which was later renamed as ‘Intelligence Bureau’ in 1920. The organisation mainly focused on National Security activities. According to an article published in Jagaran Josh, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is said to be the oldest surviving intelligence organisation in the world.
About Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)
Initially, the IB was only responsible for India’s internal and external intelligence, but in 1968, it was bifurcated and left with internal intelligence only. While it’s external branch was handed over to the newly created Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
The bifurcation took place after IB lapse in the intelligence about the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and India-Pakistan War of 1965. So the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was founded in 1968 to counter external security threats. The RAW provides intelligence to policymakers and the army and it keeps a close eye on the activities of the neighbouring countries (China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc.) of the nation.
Generally, the IB is the national internal intelligence agency that maintains the internal security of the nation, while RAW is an external intelligence agency that keeps an eye on international threats. The main functions of the IB include counterintelligence, counterterrorism, VIP Security, anti-secession activities and intelligence collection in border areas. RAW on the other hand collects secret information about the activities of neighbouring countries. IB functions under the governance of the Ministry of Home Affairs, while RAW has been placed directly under the Indian Prime Minister’s office. IB gets its employees from the Indian Police Service, law enforcement agencies and the military, while RAW has its own service cadre known as the Research and Analysis Service (RAS). Initially RAW was also dependent on the services of trained intelligence officers from the military, police and other services for its candidates.
The RAW’s objectives include:
Monitoring the political, military, economic and scientific developments in countries which have a direct bearing on India’s national security and the formulation of its foreign policy. Mould international public opinion and influence foreign governments. Covert Operations to safeguard India’s National interests. Anti-terror operations and neutralizing elements posing a threat to India.
To control and limit the supply of military hardware to Pakistan, from mostly European countries, America and more importantly from China.
The RAW stoked insurgency in East Pakistan that led to dismemberment of Pakistan. The Indian army and other agencies acted in tandem.
Another event shows that Indian diplomats developed deep ingress in Islamabad. On May 29, 1988, a senior official of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau was abducted in Islamabad. India alleges that his abductors were personnel from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). According to their own account of the incident, narrated in the news magazine Herald, they beat up the IB official until he revealed the location of a secret telephone exchange that was monitoring calls made by Zia-ul-Haq.
Kalbushan Jhadav’s story speaks volumes on how India penetrates even its serving officers to carry out sabotage and subversion in Pakistan.
‘Disinformation’ (Russian deziinformatzia) is a concept that finds mention in Sun Tzu’s Ping Fa (Principles of War). Even before Sun Tzu, Kautilya in Arthashastra supported disinformation as a civil and military warfare tool within his concept of koota yuddha (unprincipled warfare as distinguished from dharma yuddha, righteous warfare).
Tzu’s and Kautliya’s principles were used not only in World War II but also in the Cold War period (to hoodwink own and foreign people). Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8). He gives several examples of disinformation including subliminal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’ (Ibid., p. 9). In the USA, the Creel Committee, through false anti-German propaganda turned pacifist Americans against Germans.
Disinformation influenced even independent-minded Americans who laid down a constitution, beginning with words `we the people’. Yet Chomsky says the American masses are like a “bewildered herd” who have stopped thinking (Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, p.16). He asserts that in a “properly functioning democracy”, there is a “small percentage of the people”, a “specialised class of citizens” who … analyse, execute, make decisions and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems”. Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I. The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War. The Wilson administration established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission [Committee], which succeeded, within six months, in Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I. The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War. The Wilson administration established government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which [through fake news, films, etc.] succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world…. After the war, the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Square…’ (ibid.page 12).
Fifth-generation war is believed to be a vague term. George Orwell (Politics and the English Language) suggested that that trying to find a clear-cut definition of fifth-generation or hybrid war would reveal exactly that kind of vagueness, with the use of important-sounding, pseudo-technological words to impress readers and convince them that this war is being fought at a level the layperson cannot comprehend. However, India has proved that it understands the dimensions of the fifth generation war or fake news. It knows how to apply its techniques to achieve its objectives. It is time for Pakistan to wake up
EU Lab belatedly discovered a world-wide network that spread disinformation against Pakistan. Even prestigious Indian newspapers sometimes publish reports or articles that smack of being pieces of state-sponsored disinformation. Harvard’s criteria for detecting fake news could be applied to disinformation bloomers. Harvard suggests `everyone should vet a publisher’s credibility first and then check all the sources and citations’. James Carson offers tips in his article `Fake news: What exactly is it – and how can you spot it‘? (Telegraph January 31, 2019)
Disinformation camouflaged in Op-Eds is hard to detect as they do not usually quote their sources of information. A case in point is Shishir Gupta’s article ‘In Imran Khan’s 18-point Kashmir plan for Aug 5, outreach to Turkey, Malaysia and China’, published in Hindustan Times dated July 28, 2020.
RAW officers speak many languages such as Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Sinhalese, German, Polish and Urdu. By the time of Morarji Desai, RAW had a staff of “more than five thousand on its payroll”. Desai turned out to be inhospitable to RAW and Kao, and K. Sankaran Nair left the organisation. N.F. Suntook took charge and “saved the agency”. RAW “recruited trained and deployed informers and covert action teams in the USA, Iran and several European countries as well as in India’s immediate neighbours. It also employed analysts, polygraph examiners, cartographers, linguists, economists and political analysts to defend the country from internal foes and external enemies. While the I.B.’s mandate was essentially within the country, it also opened offices at times on foreign soil. As is to be expected, the two agencies joined hands, and at times fought over turf to the detriment of the common cause.
In Bangladesh, RAW combated the influence of the CIA and Pakistan. The assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a big blow and a much-chastened RAW regrouped to regain its lost influence in Bangladesh. By November 1988, RAW’s station head, code-named Krishna Patwardhan, had set up the necessary network in Bangladesh, to target elements that were hostile to India.
RAW saw spectacular action in other theatres as well. On March 20, 1988, RAW operative Anupam Malik began to carry out Mission Fiji’, “aimed to disrupt and dismantle Fiji’s military regime” that threatened to upset the ethnic balance in Fiji. Attempts were being made by this regime to deny political rights to ethnic Indians, most of whom had been immigrants to the country during the British Raj. Deporting all ethnic Indians to India’ was a distinct possibility. By the 1990s Sitiveni Rabuka, the strongman, was honey-trapped and compromised by RAW agents in Fiji and had to abdicate political power.
Similarly, RAW’s involvement in Afghanistan, we learn, began with the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country. The agency’s operatives carried out missions right through the chequered regimes of Tarki, Amin and Karmal encountering opposition from Pakistan’s Zia ul-Haq and the Taliban at different times.
In Sri Lanka, RAW propped up the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and had to follow the contradictory path of support and opposition following the dictates of the political masters in Delhi.
In the chapter titled “Shadowy War in Washington”, we see the RAW operative code-named ‘Blue Sky’ track down the Khalistani leader Jagjit Singh Chouhan and successfully penetrate the World Sikh Organisation, the International Sikh Federation and the Babbar Khalsa International. While the traditional rivalry between the I.B. and RAW continued, according to RAW operative Krishna’s candid opinion, “the I.B. proved to be far superior in the Canadian theatre than the RAW.”
RAW’s cover officers, including RK Yadav and B. Raman, make no bones about India’s involvement in Bangladesh’s insurgency. They admitted that India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi, parliament, RAW and armed forces acted in tandem to dismember Pakistan. Raman reminds us that the Indian parliament passed a resolution on March 31, 1971, to support the insurgency.
Indira Gandhi had then confided with RAW chief R.N.Kao that in case Sheikh Mujib was prevented ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta.
In order to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a cell had been established in RAW with the sole objective of disrupting it and the cell worked ‘under the supervision of the Indian Prime Minister’.
Yet another book (Terror in Islamabad) has been published by an officer Amar Bhushan who happened to have served as a diplomat at the Indian High Commission Islamabad. Before being posted to Islamabad, Bhushan had served as an officer of India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing, Border Security Force Intelligence, and State Special Branch for a quarter of a century. His book mentions another RAW officer, Amit Munshi (real name Veer Singh) posted as Cultural Attache.
Since times immemorial diplomats have enjoyed immunity in countries where they are posted. International conventions govern their conduct in host countries. If a diplomat is caught red handed violating norms of diplomatic conduct, he is declared a persona non grata. Bhushan’s book reveals that Singh’s assignment was to “identify potential Pakistanis for subversion”. The familiar elements of intelligence craft are espionage, sabotage and subversion. India added one more element “insurgency” to the intelligence craft if we go through another RAW officer’s book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane. B. Raman makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.
How 4chan Radicalizes Youth and Grooms Them Towards Terrorism
The image board was started in 2003 to discuss anime and various other topics but festered into a safe space for hateful rhetoric soon after. In the aftermath of yet another racially motivated mass shooting by a frequent user, its dangers have finally reached the mainstream.
4chan is an extremely unique website. It has been running since 2003, and over the course of almost 20 years, has influenced many internet memes and phenomena. However, in the wake of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015 and the 2016 Presidential Election, it became associated with white supremacy, especially on its /pol/ board. This hateful rhetoric festered, worsening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests. 4chan was sprung into the spotlight once again on May 14th, 2022, when a white supremacists livestreamed his massacre of a supermarket.
This attack, fresh in American’s minds, led many to question why 4chan is still allowed to exist. This comes after 4chan’s rhetoric inspired a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon and its users aided in the organization in the Unite The Right Rally and the January 6th Riots. Clearly 4chan is a hotbed for far-right terrorism. But why is this image board the way it is? The answer lies in its lax moderation of content.
Upon looking at 4chan, you will find it is mostly made up of pornography. However, if you go on the site’s /pol/ board, it does not take long to find the kind of rhetoric that radicalized the Buffalo shooter. One particular post I found featured a racist joke at the expense of Black people. Another was praising fighters in the Ukrainian Azov battalion while joking about killing trans people. Yet another post complained about an “influx of tourists” due to the Buffalo shooter, who they insulted with an anti-gay slur. These memes and jokes seem to appeal to a younger, perhaps teenaged audience. It is clear that they are still trying to recruit youth into their ranks even after the tragedy in Buffalo.
The content is, to say the least, vile. The fact that this stuff is permitted and encouraged by not just the userbase (which numbers in the millions) but also many moderators tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with 4chan. In fact, copies of the livestreamed Buffalo massacre were spread widely on 4chan to the amusement of its userbase.
Many of the users on 4chan are social rejects who feel as if they have nothing to lose. They feel unaccepted and alienated from society, so they turn to 4chan. Many harmful ideologies, such as White supremacy and incel ideologies, seem extremely validating for these dejected youth. Young, socially alienated men, who make up the majority of 4chan’s userbase, are also among the most vulnerable demographics for radicalization.
What can we do to prevent further radicalization of youth and deradicalize those already affected by harmful rhetoric? First of all, we need to either heavily regulate 4chan or have it shut down. There is no space on the internet for this kind of hatred or incitement to commit horrific acts like what happened in Buffalo. For those already radicalized, we need to perform a campaign of deradicalization among those affected by this rhetoric. But how can this be done?
4chan prides itself on anonymity, so it is difficult to figure out who uses it. Thus, education on radicalization and identification of propaganda is vital. This education should focus on adolescents mostly due to their predisposition towards radicalization when exposed to hateful rhetoric. While White supremacy must be emphasized, other forms of radicalization should be mentioned as well such as Jihadism and other forms of ethnic supremacy. Finally, tolerance must be fostered among all people, not just those at risk of becoming groomed into terrorism.
The age of 4chan has spawned many humorous memes, but it has since become a hotbed for hatred and terrorism. Since memes are able to convey dangerous ideas, websites like Reddit and Facebook need to be heavily regulated to prevent the dissemination of dangerous misinformation. It is unlikely that 4chan will ever moderate itself, as lack of strict moderation is its defining feature. Thus, it has overstayed its welcome and no longer has a place in today’s information-driven society.
New ISIS Strategy and the Resurgence of Islamic State Khorasan
Unlike Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the second late leader of ISIS, who was derided as a “secluded paper caliph” and “an unknown nobody” for his relative anonymity and non-publicity, the new caliph of the Islamic State, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, has apparently launched a new strategy to strengthen linkages to regional wilayahs (provinces) and boost the group’s global presence.
Indeed, during his short time leading the group (31 October 2019 – 3 February 2022), Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi never publicly addressed his followers, which negatively affected the coordination of the activities of Islamic State-Central (ISC) and its regional branch of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP). Although his killing during a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria in early February was a major blow to the global jihadi organization, the change in leadership nevertheless provided it with new opportunities to update its command-and-control, recruitment and propaganda campaign.
Predictably, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new ISIS overall leader, sees his historical role not only in ensuring the Caliphate’s continuity and avoiding its potential fragmentation but also in establishing a more direct and consistent command line between its core in Iraq and Sham and its Central and South Asian affiliates.
The new strategy of the Islamic Caliphate not only gave a new impetus to its Khorasan offshoot waging a holy jihad in post-American Afghanistan against the Taliban but also opened a new front line against the post-Soviet Central Asian regimes. Indeed, the analysis of ISKP activities revealed that the proclamation of Abu al-Hassan al-Quraishi as the new Caliph and the launch of a new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” increased the combat capability of IS Uzbek and Tajik fighters, as well as strengthened the coordination of local language and IS-Central propaganda machines.
Notoriously, on April 17, ISIS launched the new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, and his official spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who were killed in a US raid in February in the northwest Syrian town of Atmeh. In his recent audio address, Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu-Omar al-Muhajir called on the Caliphate warriors to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leaders by “painfully striking” the enemies of “al-mujahideen” and saying that if they kill, they should “kill by many.” This call was made to the group’s followers worldwide and asked them to remain patient, but also be ready when the “war” begins. Al-Muhajir called to expand the campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to the territory of US, Europe and Central Asia, urging Muslims living there to follow the lead of past “lone wolves” who conducted operations that “filled with horror.” He asked them to repeat “lone wolf” operations by stabbing, attacking, and ramming, and drawing inspiration from recent attacks in Israel.
ISKP Threat to Central Asia
Among the first to support the Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’ campaign were ISKP Uzbek and Tajik jihadists challenging the new Taliban government and dreaming of overthrowing the ‘Taghut (idolaters) regimes’ in Central Asia. Thus, inspired by the new Caliph’s new strategy, for the first time in the history of the Islamic State, they managed to conduct a transnational jihadi operation from Afghanistan to the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Initially, on April 18, 2022, the ISKP fired ten rocket salvos into the territory of Uzbekistan, which was successfully exploited by the Uzbek-speaking regional jihadi media and IS-Central’s propaganda resources as evidence of the opening of a “second front” in the Central Asian direction. Expert assessments clearly observed the good coordination between the IS-Central’s media and ISKP’s local jihadi mouthpieces, both in terms of Islamic ideological content and hierarchical sequences.
The Islamic State-Central’s Amaq News Agency reported that “Mujahedeen of the Caliphate have fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a murtad (apostasy) Uzbekistan’s military base in the border town of Termez.” The ISIS central media wing also released a photo and video of the projectiles to back its claims. Another IS-Central’s weekly al-Naba newsletter also widely covered the topic of rocket attacks by detailing how the projectiles were fired from Afghan territory on the Central Asian nation.
Following IS-Central official news agencies reports, IS-Khurasan Willayah’s local media outlets, such as Al-Azaim Foundation and Khurasan Radio, the Uzbek-language Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan), Tavhid Habar (Tawhid News), Tajik-language Telegram channels Mujahideen of the Caliphate and The Army of the Victorious Nation published a series of audio, video and text messages in Uzbek and Tajik detailing the goals, causes, and consequences of the rocket attack. In particular, Al-Azaim Foundation glorified the rocket attack as “the heroism of the brave lions of Allah Almighty punishing the corrupt army of the murtad Uzbek government.”
The ISKP media outlets were extremely outraged by the Uzbek government’s denial of the rocket attack, claiming that nothing had landed on their territory. In response, pro-ISKP Uzbek, Tajik and Russian Language Telegram channels re-posted IS-Central’s statement, photos, videos of the attacker and a map marked with the possible rocket impact location in Termez.
Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi experts’ attention was drawn to a 24-minute audio address of Khuroson Mujahid, the leader of ISKP Uzbek group, whose speech style and ideological views strongly resembled the late ISIS chief strategist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. His speech revealed that the ideological vision of ISKP Central Asian jihadists, staunch followers of Takfiri Salafism, is in line with the Islamic State’s global agenda. He considers democracy to be the religion of “murtad states” of Central Asia, the Taliban government and Pakistan. He believes that due to committing shirk (idolatry), deviating Allah and doubting Tawheed (God’s Oneness), the leaders of taghut countries should be killed.
Considering Khuroson’s oratorical skills, Takfiri persuasion and ideological savvy, it is quite possible that the ISKP recruitment and incitement campaign will intensify in Central Asia in the near future. Obviously, the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP in the military, media and ideological directions reached a new level in the more permissive operating environment of post-American Afghanistan.
On May 7, the ISKP carried out a second rocket attack, this time into Tajikistan. According to the Central Media Office (Diwan al-I’lam al-Markazi) of ISIS, “Caliphate’s fighters fired seven rockets from the Khawaja Ghar district of Afghanistan’s Takhar Province towards the Tajik military base near the city of Kulob.” The rocket attacks on the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for three weeks nevertheless mark a clear escalation by ISKP Central Asian foreign fighters from just hostile anti-five post-Soviet “murtad governments” rhetoric to direct militant action.
Notably, the methods of media coverage of both attacks and the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP’s local media resources were clearly similar. The algorithm of their actions was in line with the new ISIS strategy. Thus, IS-Central posted a brief information about the rocket attacks with video and photos, then the Tajik, Uzbek and Pashto-language local media resources of ISKP glorified the “warriors of Allah”. The Uzbek-language pro-Islamic State Telegram channels Islomiy Maruza Davat Guruh, Khuroson Ovozi, Tawheed news, the Tajik-language Telegram channel of Ulamoi Rabboni (إنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَنَا) actively propagated ISKR rocket attacks, undermining the image and credibility of the military potential of Tajikistan and the Taliban.
These Central Asian pro-IS media resources, supported by IS-Central propaganda bodies and comprised of a constellation of official branch outlets, regional pro-ISKP groups, and grassroots supporters have become a prominent voice aggressively impugning the Taliban’s reputation in the global jihadi world. Such method makes it possible to preserve the hierarchical structure and maintain a uniform media strategy of the global jihadi group. This reflects that after the fall of the Caliphate and a series of dramatic losses of its leaders, ISIS has learned a bitter lesson and is now moving from centralizing power to strengthening its wilayahs.
Apparently, the ISKP seeks to broaden its appeal in Central Asia both through increasing cross-border attacks against Afghanistan’s neighbors and ramping up the production, translation, and dissemination of propaganda directed at Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz communities in the region. These rocket attacks and ISKP’s propaganda campaigns targeting Central Asians for recruitment are any indicators, the group has become a serious jihadi power challenging not only the Taliban government, but also the post-Soviet authoritarian regimes. Through its Uzbek, Tajik and Pashto-language Telegram channels, the ISKP is conducted an unprecedented activity to recruit Central Asian jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as new radical Islamists from the Fergana Valley.
Future of ISKP Central Asian Jihadists
Obviously, the ISKP is exploiting the US military withdrawal from the region and the Afghan Taliban’s deviation from the hardline jihadi concept by successfully portraying their government as a Pashtun ethno-nationalist organization rather than a bona fide Islamic movement.
In conclusion, it is to be expected that the ISKP will actively capitalize external operations to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban government, which assured the US and Central Asian neighbors not to allow Afghan soil to be used to attack Afghanistan’s neighbors. Strengthening cross-border rocket attacks has already raised the morale of ISKP fighters and consolidated its support base.
Thus, the new Islamic State’s strategy to strengthen its offshoots in its provinces is quite capable to reestablish its positioning in the broader global jihadi movement, which we see in the example of IS-Khorasan Province.
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