In explaining the importance of Afghanistan to the Islamic State in an interview, the terrorist organization’s official English-language magazine, Dabiq, note the presence of “atheist Chinese” near Afghan borders as a threat to their international jihad. The group has recently increased its efforts to call the attention of the Chinese government toward them.
Referring to the region as “Khorasan,” an ancient name that covers parts of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the so-called Islamic State governor of the region, or Wilayat, Shaykh Hāfidh Sa’īd Khān, notes that his region has strategic importance to the jihad:
Wilāyat Khurāsān has great importance to Islam and the Muslims. It had once been under the authority of the Muslims, along with the regions surrounding it. Afterwards, the secularist and Rāfidī murtaddīn [Shiites] conquered some of these regions, and the cow-worshipping Hindus and atheist Chinese conquered other nearby regions, as is the case in parts of Kashmir and Turkistan [Xinjiang].
He notes also that he considers the region fertile ground for ISIS recruitment, as “the people of Khurāsān in general love Islam and warfare, and because of this, the region has a dormant force for supporting tawhīd and jihād.”
Dabiq is named after a town in Syria that Islamic State jihadists and other Islamists believe will be the setting for the final battle between jihadists and non-believers:
The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have said that “the last hour will not come” until Muslims vanquish the Romans at “Dabiq or Al-A’maq” – both in the Syria-Turkey border region – on their way to conquer Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul).
While the Islamic State “capital,” Raqqa, is in Syria, and the group has had its greatest military successes in the Arab world, the group has expanded its presence in Afghanistan, triggering fears in the region that they may become an even greater threat than the Taliban. The United Nations warned in September that ISIS had established recruitment operations in almost 75 percent of Afghan territory. A UN study recorded “sightings of the groups with some form of ISIL branding” in 25 of the nation’s 34 provinces.
What’s more, ISIS appears to be making a dent into the Taliban’s recruiting base. The UN estimated that up to 10 percent of Taliban members had sympathy for the Islamic State, despite ISIS’s rejection of the group. Footage broadcast in the PBS series Frontline has shown Taliban members pledging allegiance to ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The latest issue of Dabiq spends much ink on disparaging the Taliban as “nationalist” and sympathetic to Shiite Muslims, “considering the Rāfidah [Shiites] to be their brothers and publically [sic] denouncing those who target the Rāfidah.” “Everyone who says there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger is a Muslim. The sects are many and Allah will decide between them on Judgment Day,” Dabiq quotes a Taliban official as stating on page 39.
ISIS’s challenges to the Taliban have alarmed regional countries, particularly Russia. “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,” Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in October. Xinjiang is China’s westernmost region, with a high Muslim population of ethnic Uyghurs.
As a result of ISIS’s threats in Afghanistan, Russia appears to be not just tolerating the presence of the Taliban, but actively cooperating with them on intelligence. “Russia has established communication channels to exchange information with the Taliban,” Zamir Kabulov, a department chief at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told Russian news outlet Interfax.
Beijing appears just as concerned with the possibility of the Islamic State cementing its foothold in Xinjiang. In December, President Xi Jinping announced a project to enhance anti-terrorism operations with Russia. “Xi said against the backdrop that tremendous changes have taken place in global anti-terrorism situation, China stands ready to work with the international community, including Russia, to combat terrorism and uphold the common interest of the world,” a report from Chinese state media read.
The Islamic State has not kept its ambitions locked in Khorasan, however, actively targeting Chinese territory. A month ago, the Islamic State’s propaganda outlet released a nasheed, or fight song, in Mandarin, an attempt to connect with Chinese Muslims and recruit them into terrorism. As Uyghur populations tend not to speak Mandarin, some observers believe the message was intended for China’s Hui ethnic group, who do speak Mandarin and practice Islam. The Hui have a much more cordial relationship with Beijing than the Uyghurs, with the Chinese government even paying for thousands of Huis to make the hajj to Mecca annually.
ISIS also announced in a previous issue of Dabiq that its terrorists had beheaded a Chinese citizen, Fan Jinghui, who was kidnapped in Syria, and they have released videos demanding Chinese citizens pay jizya, the infidels’ tax.