Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 32 Issue 3
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
A recent operation by German federal prosecutors has uncovered a suspected jihadist cell composed of seven individuals from Central Asia. This development highlights the severity of the terrorist threat faced by Europe from external sources.
The origin of the suspects from Central Asia draws attention to the region, which has increasingly become a target of jihadist propaganda, particularly following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the emergence of the Islamic State Khorasan Province.
The discovery of this terrorist cell emphasises the immediate need for enhanced security measures and international cooperation in combating terrorism.
- The arrest of a terrorist cell in Germany, comprising individuals from Central Asia, confirms that Europe is vulnerable to the terrorist threat.
- The ongoing conflict in Ukraine creates a potential gateway for terrorists and jihadist militants from the post-Soviet space.
- To counter jihadist propaganda and prevent regional instability, it is crucial to stabilise Central Asian republics and collaborate with local governments to improve living conditions and democratic institutions.
Information Background: The Arrest of a Jihadist Cell in Germany
On July 6th, 2023, German federal prosecutors uncovered a suspected Islamist terrorist cell in North Rhine-Westphalia and apprehended seven suspects. The suspects hail from Central Asia, including one Kyrgyz citizen, one Turkmen citizen, and five Tajik citizens.
German authorities have accused them of establishing a terrorist organisation and planning attacks, with alleged links to the Islamic State (IS). Additionally, a Tajik man and his Kyrgyz wife were reportedly detained by Dutch authorities.
According to the investigation, the seven suspects had longstanding associations and shared a commitment to radical Islam. After the conflict in Ukraine began, they simultaneously migrated to Germany and established a terrorist cell in late June 2022. Their primary objective was to conduct high-profile terrorist attacks in Germany, inspired by those orchestrated by the Islamic State.
The group had communication with members of the regional Islamic State branch and conducted surveillance on potential targets in Germany. They actively sought to acquire weapons to support their planned attacks.
The Prosecutor General’s Office reported some detainees had been collecting funds for the Islamic State since April 2022, repeatedly transferring the money overseas.
Geopolitical Risk Analysis
Europe remains susceptible to the terrorist threat and the dissemination of jihadist propaganda. Ukraine might become a breeding ground for terrorist militants and serve as a gateway for jihadist propaganda into Europe.
Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, several terrorist organisations have disseminated propaganda, encouraging militants to relocate to Ukrainian territory and join international legions to gain military experience, training, and access to weapons.
Reports in January 2023 indicated the presence of Ajnad al-Kavkaz militants in Ukraine. Ajnad al-Kavkaz is a terrorist organisation composed of North Caucasian militants known for their operations against Syrian and Russian forces in Syria.
Social media platforms, particularly Telegram, shared images of meetings between the leader of Ajnad al-Kavkaz, Abdul Hakim al-Shishani, and members of the Chechen battalion Shaykh Mansur, which operates in Ukraine to support Kyiv.
The substantial quantity of weapons provided by Western nations to support Ukraine raises concerns about the potential acquisition of these weapons by militants. Media reports have highlighted the possibility of Western weapons being sold on the black market, prompting Interpol’s concern.
To counter the terrorist threat, European countries should cooperate with Central Asian republics and monitor local dynamics in Afghanistan.
Since the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and the subsequent rise of the Taliban to power, the Afghan territory has witnessed a surge in violent attacks and increased activities by jihadist groups, particularly al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The terrorist threat in Central Asia and the AfPak region is significant, particularly when linking this information with the Islamic State Khorasan Vilayat’s (ISKP) escalating jihadist campaign that targets Central Asian republics like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Controlling the migration process from the region to Europe is crucial in countering terrorist activities. Additionally, cooperating with local governments to improve local democratic institutions and living standards is an essential step in preventing jihadist propaganda from gaining fertile ground in Central Asia.
European countries must prioritise countering terrorism activities and preventing violent attacks on European soil. To achieve this, authorities should focus on the following measures:
- Assess and monitor the situation in Ukraine concerning foreign volunteers fighting and supporting Kyiv. It is crucial to determine whether volunteer groups like the Chechen battalions Shaykh Mansur and Dzhokhar Dudayev of the Muslim Corp “Kavkaz” have any links or sympathies towards extremist or jihadist groups.
- Monitor regional risks in Central Asia. In 2022, Central Asia experienced a wave of protests and local crises. Kazakhstan faced turmoil because of a rise in energy prices, which required military intervention by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to restore stability and eliminate perceived “foreign agents” seeking to exploit the situation.
The Tajik authorities employed military force to quell protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) a few months later, in May 2022. In July 2022, protests erupted in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan, with citizens demonstrating against perceived limitations on their freedom and independence imposed by the central authority.
These events show that terrorist groups, particularly ISKP, may exploit local tensions to promote their propaganda and recruit militants from the younger generations.
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