By Uran Botobekov*
Some Western countries mistakenly think that the al Qaida-linked Salafi-jihadi groups from Central Asia and Chinese Xinjiang are fragmented, weak and less dynamic; therefore they do not pose a big threat compared to the Islamic state. However, in-depth study of their activities and ideological doctrine shows that the Central Asian al Qaida ally groups today are actively engaged in the ideological education of children and youth, which in the future will become faithful fighters of the global jihad.
The following comparison covers the methods of ideological education of Central Asia’s children and youth, and their use by ISIS and al Qaeda to achieve their goals.
It is known that during the bloody reign of the Caliphate, more than 10 thousand citizens from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and the Uyghurs from northwest China fought on the side of ISIS. Many of them made a Hijrah (the migration of Muslims for Jihad) to Iraq and Syria to “protect the values of true Islam” and brought their families with small children there.Subsequently, some of these children entered the battalion ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’ and became protagonists in the Islamic State’s Propaganda.
According to my statistical research, in 2013-2018, more than 55 video, audio, and text materials were released by the Islamic State’s media wings with the participation of Central Asia’s children in Arabic, Uygur, Uzbek, Russian, Kyrgyz, and Tajik.After the fall of the Caliphate, propaganda videos with the participation of Central Asian children almost ceased.But the ideological “virus” ISIS continues its mutation among the youth of the former Soviet republics.
With the diminishing possibilities of the Islamic state’s media resources, the propaganda and ideological activity of the al Qaida-linked Central Asian Salafi-jihadi groups have recently increased in contrast.As is already known, the Uzbek militants of Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) and Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), as well as Uyghur jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP)from the Chinese province of Xinjiang are affiliated with al Qaeda. All three groups regularly publish propaganda videos of children from the Syrian province of Idlib where they are fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Since 2013, al Qaeda has posted about 30 videos, audio and text materials in which Central Asia’s children made up the main plot.
It should be noted that in Syria and Afghanistan about 200 Uyghur and Uzbek children are now being raised, whose parents are associated with al Qaeda. Many of them came to the Middle East with their parents. However, among them, there are those who were born already in Syria.
Common aspects of the ideological school of al Qaeda and ISIS
Based on a comparative analysis of video, audio and text materials regarding the participation of Central Asian children, it is possible to point out the common and specific aspects of the alQaeda and ISIS ideological schools, and what different methodologies they use in raising children and youth.
The main common characteristic of the curriculum in al Qaeda’s and ISIS’ madrasas is learning the Quran by heart, Tawhid (monotheism), Fiqh (jurisprudence), Salat (prayers), Aqidah (creed), Hadith, and Sura (life of Prophet Muhammad).
The second common feature in the education of Central Asian children in al Qaeda and ISIS’ camps is the call to Jihad. The doctrine of Jihad is the main place in the ideology of both Sunni terrorist groups, and accordingly, in the madrasas and training camps, children are brainwashed from early childhood with ideas of holy Jihad. Imams explain to children in detail about all forms of Jihad and the sacred purpose of the Shahid (martyr).As a result, children after training in such religious schools, as a rule, replenish the “reserve fund” of ideologically hardened jihadists.
The difference between al Qaeda and ISIS in the education of children and youth
A sharp ideological confrontation between the two main Sunni groups has escalated into armed conflict, which also affects the education of the younger generation of Islamists. To achieve victory in the struggle for hegemony in the global jihadist movement, the ideologists of al Qaeda use all means, including children’s education in madrasas.
Al Qaeda-sympathized Uzbek and Uyghur imams in madrasas in Syria tell children about the enemies of Islam, which they ranked on a par with the “Kafir regimes” of the USA, Russia and China also the Kharijites (those who defected from the Ummah and rebelled against the Caliph) of the Islamic state and its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
KTJ and TIP opened several madrasas to teach their children in Uzbek and Uyghur languages on the territory of the so-called “Liberated land of Sham”, which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), former al-Nusra Front.KTJ on the Internet often disseminates information about the activities of two madrasas: the Abdullah ibn Abbas Madrasa and the Umar ibn al-Khattab Madrasa.
Also, the Uyghur Salafists of TIP own several madrasas in in Jisr al-Shugur in northwestern Syria. This was possible thanks to the fact that the Uyghur and Uzbek jihadists live compactly and separately in last major rebel stronghold of Idlib.In accordance with the guiding doctrine of al Qaeda, they have skillfully adapted to local conditions, and have virtually no conflicts with the local Arab population.
As is known, during the ideological confrontation, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri accused ISIS of excessive cruelty towards other Muslims, an unjustified using of Takfir (accusation of apostasy), ignoring the high goals of the Shari’a, which split the Mujahideen ranks.In 2015, the ideologues of al Qaeda even published a special book entitled “The Islamic State is the succession of tyranny and corruption,” in which they raised the problem of excessiveness in Islam (Ghulu fid-deen) and called al-Baghdadi to moderation.Zawahiri brought to mind him the Hadith, in which Prophet said: “Beware of ghulu (excessiveness) in religion, for indeed, what devastated those before you was ghulu in religion.”
ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani replied that the Caliphate did not swear al Qaeda because it was not appropriate for the State to swear organizations. As a result, ISIS began to use mass executions and public beheadings with incredible cruelty. Unlike ISIS, al Qaeda advocated a more gentle approach to convince local Muslims to accept its views and not force them to do.Ayman al-Zawahiri noted that it is impossible to unite Muslims, trying to impose their power on them with the help of violence.
Indeed, during the peak of his reign in 2015–16, ISIS released dozens of videos with the participation of Central Asian children, who not only taught the Quran in the madrasas, but also cut off the heads of prisoners, executed “kafirs”, and blew themselves up as martyrs. Central Asia’s children were integrated into the military machine of the Caliphate as cruel executioners and suicide bombers, becoming an ideological tool in the struggle for leadership in the global jihad.
The ideological differences between the Islamic state and al Qaeda manifested themselves with the example of teaching children in madrasas. The Uyghur and Uzbek jihadists of TIP, KTJ and KIB, in organizing the teaching of children in the madrasas, took into account the recommendations of their spiritual leader Zawahiri to show a sense of practicality, pragmatism and not to demonstrate excessive cruelty.
When analyzing video plots, the “peaceful nature” of the educational process stands out and the excessive cruelty of the students of the madrasa does not appear.For example, in the Abdullah ibn Abbas Madrasa, in addition to studying the Quran, children also study mathematics, Arabic and Uzbek languages, military science and sports.Imam says that the madrasa is fully equipped with books and textbooks, and books on the Uzbek language brought from Central Asia.According to him, the goal of training is to bring up a new generation of educated and highly intelligent warriors of Allah so that in the future they can resist the technological know-how of the West and defeat the enemies of Islam.
Another video shows the educational process in the Umar ibn al-Khattab Madrasa, where the Uzbek children study among local Arab children. For Uzbek children, a bus-service has been organized that to take and pick children up from Madrasa.
On October 29, 2018, TIP published a video entitled “Protectors of the Quran”, where Uighur children demonstrate excellent knowledge of the Quran, social science classes, swimming in the pool, exercise and military training.The Imam tells them about the atrocities of the Chinese authorities against the Uyghur Muslims and sets the task that they must liberate the lands of East Turkestan from the yoke of Beijing in the future.An analysis of these videos shows that in madrasas, the learning process is organized according to the concept of al Qaeda and the upbringing of children is conducted according to its ideology.
The USA is the main enemy for al Qaeda-backed Central Asia’s jihadists
The fall of the Caliphate revealed that Ayman al-Zawahiri had strategically calibrated the priorities of al Qaeda and its affiliated groups from Central Asia, and managed to implement an action plan that allowed them to survive in the struggle for leadership of the global jihad.For him, it is important not the seizure of territories or the creation of his own state with Sharia rule, but the process of jihad against the USA and its allies, and the widespread of al Qaeda ideology in the Islamic world.
Al Qaeda’s tactic is that it tries not to draw enemy’s fire, slyly and prudently leads the game on its own survival, fundamentally creates its own ideological infrastructure and persistently teaches the next generation of jihadists.
The activities of TIP, KTJ and KIB showed that over the past five years the influence of al Qaeda among the Salafis of Central Asia has increased significantly. There is not only the rejuvenation of al Qaeda militants, but also the ideology of global jihadism is rejuvenating.
In his manifest address named General Guidelines for Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined al-Qaida’s priority task of fighting against the far enemy – the United States and its allies.According to him, the local regimes and other Islamic movements (Rawafidh, Ismailis, Qadianis, and deviant Sufis, etc.) are nearby enemies for Al Qaida. He urged not to attack the “nearby enemies”, but instead focus on fighting the “far enemy.”
There is no doubt that TIP, KTJ and KIB will firmly adhere to the strategic line designated by Zawahiri.For them, the main priority remains a blow to the US and its military, diplomatic missions near the conflict zones in the future.But they are not in a position to carry out such an operation now and so far securely hide their true intentions.Therefore, the US should not underestimate the potential threat posed by the al Qaeda-affiliated Central Asian Salafi-jihadi groups.
*About the author: Uran Botobekov, Doctor of Political Science (PhD), expert on Political Islam
Source: This article was published by Modern Diplomacy