While in China, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov announced the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) plans to expand into Europe, Russia, and China. His proof consisted of an allegedly strong ISIS presence in Afghanistan.
“Recently, the activity of terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State increased substantially on the Afghan territory. Afghanistan could be used by the group for further expansion to CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries in Central Asia and in the direction of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in [northwest] China,” he stated at the Xiangshan Forum.
Antonov promised that Russia will continue to help fight against ISIS jihadists in Kabul.
“There are currently up to 50,000 militants in the country [Afghanistan], organized into over 4,000 different units and groups. Russia intends to continue its assistance to the Afghan government on the bilateral level as well as together with SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization] partners,” he said.
ISIS emerged in Afghanistan last year, but experts think their expansion there has been aided more by “a splintering of the Taliban than a major expansion of the core group in Syria and Iraq.” Those who survive ISIS attacks recount stories that indicate ex-Taliban members have adapted to the Islamic State’s demands for more gruesome behavior. Witnesses say the jihadists attempt to capture anyone they believe has connections to the government and execute them as soon as possible. Others say the men “poured pepper into the wounds of their enemies” and “seared their hands in vats of boiling oil.”
“They pulled out my brother’s teeth before they forced him to sit on the bombs,” described Malik Namos, a tribal elder. “They are more vicious than the Taliban, than any group we have seen.”
Russia began airstrikes in Syria on September 30, a day after President Vladimir Putin addressed the UN General Assembly about the need for a comprehensive plan to attack ISIS and radical Islamists in Syria. He told the world the main targets are ISIS members.
“The proposal envisages creation of a wide international anti-terrorist coalition that might incorporate various forces on the basis of common values and international law in conformity with the principles of the UN Charter,” continued Antonov.
Insiders have told international media that Russia is targeting anyone they consider an enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Their latest offensive occurred in Aleppo, where ISIS does not maintain a strong presence. Russia still believes Syria will only have a future with Assad as its head of state.
“Without restoring statehood and strengthening bodies of power there will be no fundamental improvement in the situation,” he said. “However, in taking future action one should avoid dictating one’s own approaches and by all means respect the national cultures and histories of the countries in the region.”
Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s largest ally. Over the summer, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attempted to persuade Middle East countries to join sides with Assad to defeat the ISIS. Everyone turned him down, including Saudi Arabia.
“A key reason behind the emergence of Islamic State was the actions of Assad who directed his arms at his nation, not Islamic State,” declared Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution to the Syrian crisis… There is no place for Assad in the future of Syria.”
Russian nationals are the largest group of foreigners joining the Islamic State and other jihadist groups in Syria outside of the Middle East. While leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rarely appears in public, the terrorist group has repeatedly used paramilitary leader Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen, all over its propaganda. ISIS featured him in a video last August from one of its children training centers, with children showing off their military skills for al-Shishani.
Chechens in Syria have threatened President Vladimir Putin for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in a video released last September, vowed to liberate Chechnya and Russia’s North Caucasus.