Islamic State Khurasan Province threatens Uzbekistan, Central Asia, and neighbouring countries

Islamic State Khurasan Province targeted Uzbekistan in its propaganda (Credits: the author took this picture from the Telegram channel of Asadulloh Urganchiy)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 19 Issue 4
Author: Riccardo Valle

In the last couple of months, Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) and its local Central Asian militants have been increasing their propaganda output by directly targeting regional countries (especially Uzbekistan), calling for attacks against local governments and jihad in Central Asia.

ISKP propaganda expansion in regional languages after August 15th, 2021

ISKP started expanding its propaganda efforts significantly after the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15th, 2021. Particularly, before the Emirate’s return, the media institute al-Azaim Foundation became the ISKP’s official local media organ, publishing all its print materials, audio statements, and video productions, which had been mainly targeting jihadist rival group, the Taliban. Even prior to this, other ISKP-linked media institutes were frequently publishing media content which were targeting the Taliban and their relations with foreign countries; for instance, in May 2021, Khalid Media published an 18-minute-long video which criticised the Taliban for having relations with “Communist China”, covertly endorsing the ongoing repression of Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang.[1] Later, in October, ISKP would claim a suicide attack in Kunduz carried out by one of its Uyghur militants, Muhammad al-Uyghuri, in revenge for China’s “oppressed Muslims”.[2] Similarly, another 9-minute-long video published by Akhbar Wilayah Khurasan in June 2021 featured a picture of Mullah Baradar side by side with Russian FM Lavrov.[3] More recently, al-Azaim Foundation released a video that criticises Kabul’s new government and its diplomatic relations with Russia, China, and Pakistan.[4]

However, soon after the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, ISKP increased its output and introduced new publications, including releasing content in more languages as part of an ongoing internationalisation campaign of its own propaganda.[5] Thus, not only official languages Pashto and Dari are featured, but also Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, Uzbek, Tajik, and English. ISKP not only employs these languages for translating Islamic State’s official releases, such as the al-Naba newsletter, or its own releases, as in the case of its magazine Voice of Khurasan, but it also actively produces new, original content specifically tailored for ethnic groups who speak these languages.  Particularly, several channels linked to al-Azaim Foundation have been producing propaganda material in Uzbek and Tajik languages for their own militants. This material not only targets the Taliban, as for the rest of ISKP propaganda, but it also threatens Central Asian countries and regional powers such as Russia and China.

ISKP propaganda in Uzbek and Tajik languages

Most al-Azaim Foundation’s propaganda in Uzbek and Tajik channels consists of audio files, videos, and sometimes books, while the topics discussed in the media products are different.

Islamic State has a long history of propaganda that specifically addresses its Uzbek militants.[6] ISKP propaganda in Pashto or Dari language had been regularly translated into the Uzbek language by Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan, the Uzbek version of Khurasan Ghag Radio, ISKP Pashto radio channel), which for instance, subtitled several videos from Akhbar Wilayah Khurasan and Khalid Media since at least November 2021. Moreover, since the start of 2022, Uzbek media channels officially published their propaganda output under the al-Azaim Foundation banner.[7] One channel, Aqida Darsliklari, issued eighteen lessons on the Islamic State’s creed and method (aqeeda and manhaj), while it also started to publish speeches from former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s (IMU) prominent ideologue Asadulloh Urganchiy. According to an audio file from Mohammed Ali Domla – former Chief Security Officer of the IMU – shared by a pro-ISKP Uzbek channel, the Asadulloh Urganchiy was killed by the Taliban in Zabol province in 2015 when the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.[8] In February, al-Azaim Foundation also published a book in the Uzbek language titled “Until When the Ignorance?” which specifically addressed Uzbek and Turkmen militants in Afghanistan. The book lashes out against the Taliban, arguing the group is an ally of Russia, Pakistan, and Turkey, planning to eradicate Islam from the entire region and is becoming the “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham of Afghanistan”, meaning abandoning jihad in favour of being part of the international community.[9]

Book released by al-Azaim Foundation in the Uzbek language (Credits: the author took this picture during his monitoring activities)

ISKP also featured propaganda in the Tajik language for Tajik militants, too. This includes both releases by Islamic State Central and locally produced audios and books. For instance, in July 2021, Islamic State released a video from the “Makers of Epic Battles Series” featuring a Tajik ISKP militant threatening the “taghuti” (tyrannical) government of Tajikistan and explicitly naming President Emomali Rahmon. What is important to note is that the young militant – who later took part in the August 2020 Jalalabad prison break operation of ISKP – was originally from Tajikistan and made hijrah to Khurasan previously.[10]

Moreover, similar to Uzbek propaganda, Sadoi Khurasan (Voice of Khurasan, the Tajik version of Khurasan Ghag Radio) has produced around 150 audio files since January 2021.[11]  Most of them are brief speeches about jihad, aqeedah, and manhaj, but many other targets the Taliban, declaring takfeer against them and calling for attacks. All audio files feature several speakers, and one of the most prolific ones is Yusuf Tajiki, who mainly lashed out against the Taliban. Other languages are featured in the statements, mainly Farsi with another frequent speaker, Abu Usama, and Ustad Abu Anas Khurasani – who also targeted Iran and Pakistan in his speeches – and some audios in the Russian language. One old audio from January 2021 re-uploaded by the channel featured all three languages with Yahya Tajiki, Abu Ali Ansari (Farsi speaker), and Ahmad Khurasani (Russian speaker) discussing the foundation of Khurasan Province by the hands of “muhajir” and “ansar”, referring to non-Afghan members within ISKP ranks.

In 2022, al-Azaim Foundation also co-published three books with the Tajik media outlet Library of Movarounnahra (Transoxiana, the ancient region encompassing those lands beyond the Amu Darya, north of Khurasan), pointing to a collaboration between different institutions, while other channels translate speeches from Afghan pro ISKP scholars into Tajik.

Book released by al-Azaim Foundation in the Tajik language (Credits: the author took this picture during his monitoring activities)

The Termez attack and ISKP’s new wave of propaganda

However, on April 18th, when ISKP claimed its first-ever attack, which hit Uzbekistan’s border city of Termez, which involved the use of 10 Katyusha rockets, propaganda released by the group against Central Asian countries reached a new stage. Shortly after the attack, which was apparently carried out by a Central Asian fighter, according to the picture released by Amaq, Uzbek channel Tawheed News released a 24-minute-long Uzbek-language audio statement titled “The blessed attack of Termez”, which officially proclaimed that the jihad for Central Asia had officially started and called for attacks in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.[12]

During the remaining days of the month of Ramadan, ISKP Tajik and Uzbek channels published several posters and messages with the al-Azaim Foundation’s logo praising the Termez attack.

On May 2nd, 2022, Yusuf Tajiki issued a message on the Sadoi Khurasan channel congratulating the “Mujahideen of Movarounnahra” for recent developments in the region and calling for new attacks against the polytheistic governments of Central Asia.

On May 3rd, 2022, al-Azaim Foundation and Xuroson Ovozi released a new 16-minute-long video that featured the Amaq video of the rocket attack in Termez. The speaker – who seems to be the same from the Termez audio – threatens to attack the “Russian Empire” and its “puppets” in Central Asia, namely Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The speaker claims that several Central Asian fighters of ISKP have acquired experience during their jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Syria, and Iraq and are ready to come back and fight in Transoxiana, as this region and Khorasan are closely connected. The video also eulogized IMU’s commanders who fought in Afghanistan, such as IMU’s co-founder Tahir Yuldashev and IMU’s Emir, who joined ISKP in 2015, Usman Ghazi. Finally, the speaker claims the Taliban are fighting ISKP on behalf of the US, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, India, and Uzbekistan.

On the same day, al-Azaim Foundation also released issue 5 of its English language magazine, Voice of Khurasan, which included an article dedicated to the Termez attack. The article features the attacker’s picture and a map that shows that the attack came from the Afghan border city of Hairatan, Balkh province, the same province whose capital, Mazar-i-Sharif, was hit by a devastating attack targeting a Shiite mosque on April 21st, 2022.[13] The article also reiterates that the group is ready to strike Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries, particularly Iran, China, and Uzbekistan.

Conclusion

The considerable increase in the propaganda efforts by the group coupled with the more frequent attacks carried out in the north of Afghanistan, particularly in the provinces of Kunduz, Takhar, and Balkh, including cross border attacks into Uzbekistan, may pose a security challenge along the border of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.[14] Moreover, ISKP propaganda specifically tailored for Uzbeks and Tajiks in their home countries may pose a long-term challenge to their internal security.

Finally, it should also be noted that the propaganda produced by Uzbek and Tajik channels in collaboration with al-Azaim Foundation is not only limited to Afghanistan or Central Asia; rather, many videos and audio files also refer to Syria, particularly Idlib, calling for revenge of Islamic State militants killed by HTS, Turkey, Iran, and Russia, thus spreading beyond Khurasan their propaganda reach.

Source

[1] Khalid Media (2021) Who are the Mujahideedn? Khalid Media (Telegram), 14:40.

[2] L. Webber (2021), Perspectives | Islamic State using China to vilify Taliban Eurasianet https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-islamic-state-using-china-to-vilify-taliban

[3] Akhbar Wilayah Khurasan (2021), Untitled. Akhbar Wilayah Khurasan (Telegram), 4:10.

[4] SpecialEurasia (2022) Islamic State Khurasan published a video targeting Taliban government’s ties with the international community. SpecialEurasia. https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/03/25/islamic-state-taliban-jihad/

[5] L. Webber – R. Valle (2022) The Growth and Internationalization of Islamic State Khurasan Province’s Media Operations. Militant Wire. https://www.militantwire.com/p/the-growth-and-internationalization?s=r

[6] L. Webber (2021), Perspectives | Islamic State continues anti-Taliban PR push, with Tashkent in crosshairs. Eurasiantet. https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-islamic-state-continues-anti-taliban-pr-push-with-tashkent-in-crosshairs

[7] L. Webber – R. Valle (2022) Perspectives | Islamic State in Afghanistan seeks to recruit Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz. Eurasianet. https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-islamic-state-in-afghanistan-seeks-to-recruit-uzbeks-tajiks-kyrgyz

[8] Mohammed Ali Domla (2015) Truth Remains Reality. Tawheed News (Telegram). Audio kindly translated by Dr. Uran Botobekov.

[9] Al-Azaim Foundation (2022), Until When the Ignorance? Al-Azaim Foundation (Telegram), 17, 23.

[10] Islamic State, “Makers of Epic Battles Series – Khurasan Province”, Islamic State (Telegram).

[11] L. Webber – R. Valle (2022), Islamic State in Afghanistan Looks to Recruit Regional Tajiks, Inflict Violence Against Tajikistan, The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2022/04/islamic-state-in-afghanistan-looks-to-recruit-regional-tajiks-inflict-violence-against-tajikistan/

[12] L. Webber – R. Valle (2022), Perspectives | ISKP’s Uzbekistan-directed attack bolsters rhetoric with deeds, The Diplomat. https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-iskps-uzbekistan-directed-attack-bolsters-rhetoric-with-deeds

[13] Muwahed (2022) Blasts Hit Kabul, Balkh and Kunduz, Tolo News, https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-177673

[14] Webber – Valle (2022), Perspectives | ISKP’s Uzbekistan-directed…, cit.


Disclaimer. This analysis is part of SpecialEurasia’s project “Monitoring Jihadist Propaganda & Terrorism”, which only has academic and research purposes and does not endorse any posted material.

Related Posts