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Saturday, April 13, 2024

New ISIS-Khorasan Propaganda Tactics Target United States

Along with spectacular bloody attacks on diplomatic missions and foreign nationals, ISKP has stepped up its ideological and propaganda warfare campaign.

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, ISKP has shown the capability to produce multilingual propaganda adopting new propaganda tactics for targeted criticism and mockery of U.S. political and military leaders. A strengthened ISKP insurgency and its growing international ambitions have direct consequences for U.S. and Western security interests.

Growing Global Ambitions of IS-Khorasan

In its propaganda Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the official affiliate of the Islamic State terror group operating in Central and South Asia, has recently adopted a new tactic, moving from superficial religious vilification of the Western “crusaders” to targeted criticism and mockery of President Biden and the U.S. military command. Content analysis of ISKP propaganda materials indicates that the group’s ideologues are closely monitoring the statements of U.S. politicians, the Pentagon and the mainstream media assessing the possible threat from IS-Khorasan jihadists.

The tracking of IS-linked Uzbek and Tajik militants’ activity in Central Asia for years revealed that following the coordinated suicide bomb attack on Kabul airport in August 2021 that left at least 100 people dead, including 13 U.S. troops, ISKP has acquired global ambitions threatening world and regional powers. Before the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, ISKP did not have the global ambition of external attacks, and its Pashto-language media resources waged a propaganda war primarily against the Taliban, its strategic rival and ardent enemy.

But since August 2021, along with the expansion of ideological, logistical, and operational capacities, the group has acquired global ambitions. Lately, ISKP multilanguage media resources have waged an active ideological war with external enemies – the United States, Russia, Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan – to undermine international legitimacy and recognition of the Taliban government.

IS-Khorasan has benefited from the reduced counterterrorism pressure after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, allowing it to pursue a calculated, thoughtful, coherent, and ambitious international strategy. Over the past year, the Islamic State offshoot carried out a high-profile suicide bombing on the Russian Embassy in Kabul, an attack on Chinese diplomats and businessmen at Kabul Longan Hotel, cross-border rocket attacks on Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and an Inghimasi attack on Sikh-Hindu temple in Kabul targeting India’s interests in Afghanistan. ISKP strategists aimed at international targets to increase the group’s appeal in the global jihadi world and undermine the Taliban’s ability to ensure stability in the country.

Along with spectacular bloody attacks on diplomatic missions and foreign nationals, ISKP has stepped up its ideological and propaganda warfare campaign through the Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production. To develop its international ambitions, ISKP has officially launched several multilingual propaganda outlets under Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production, such as Voice of Khurasan magazine in English, Pashto language Khurasan Ghag magazine, Al-Azaim Uzbek, Al-Azaim Tajiki, Xuroson Ovozi radio in Uzbek, Al-Millat Media, Khalid Media, Al-Akhbar Wilayah Khorasan, Haqeeqat News, and Al-Mursalat Media. With the growth of its ambitions, ISKP has expanded the language scope of its propaganda: Pashto, Dari, Persian, Urdu, Uzbek, Tajik, Hindi, Malayalam, Russian, Arabic, English, and occasionally Uyghur.

U.S. reflection in ISKP Propaganda Mirror

The content analysis of Al-Azaim Foundation multilingual propaganda narratives found that ISKP considers the U.S. to be its main enemy and “Chief Shaitan” (evil spirit in Islamic belief). As noted above, Al-Azaim Foundation and its local language media affiliates initially criticized the U.S. from a theological and ideological standpoint. If, until recently, ISKP theologically accused the “American Crusaders” of patronizing the Taliban Murtaddin (apostasy in Islam), peacefully transferring power to them and jointly conspiring against ISIS, today its propagandists have moved on to targeted criticism of both. Currently Al-Azaim multilingual media offshoots tried to analyze the military-political events in the U.S. and mocked their official statements.

In its 23rd issue, Voice of Khurasan magazine, ISKP’s international flagship propaganda force, featured an article titled “And Gas Balloon Intimidates the Goliath of the Time”. ISIS mocks the U.S. fear of the “Chinese weather balloon that was turned away from its course” and raises the question of how the “Taghut (idolaters) Biden administration” would react if the “unidentified soldiers of Allah” conduct operations inside the U.S. The author concludes by humiliating that the “tyrannical Goliath” is “afraid of his own shadow” and, after all its “own crimes throughout the lands of the Muslims,” openly alludes to the repetition of “another 9-11 styled heavy blow to its mainland.”

On March 13, the pro-ISKP Uzbek Telegram channel “Uzb Bahori va Vatan Buti” posted a video message from President Biden assuring Americans that the “U.S. banking system is safe” after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. In this regard, Uzbek jihadists ridiculed his earlier promise to find and punish the Khilafah Mujahideen (defenders of Islam) who carried out an Ishtishhadi (suicide bombing) operation at Kabul airport killing 13 kafir U.S. servicemen. “Still licking his wounds, the Crusader leader is making new promises that aren’t worth a damn,” the pro-ISKP Telegram channel concluded.

In recent days, Al-Azaim Media’s Uzbek, Tajik, and Pashto language units and pro-IS Telegram channels discussed the statement of Gen. Michael Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, who acknowledged that within six months, ISKP could target U.S. or Western interests abroad. As is known, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 16, Gen. Kurilla admitted the ability of ISKP to conduct external operations, which was picked up by IS-Central and its provinces’ propaganda arms with enthusiasm.

Particularly, on March 17, ISIS’s Al-Naba weekly published an editorial titled “Harvest of the Pentagon” with a photo of Gen. Kurilla, which indicates the importance of his statement for the group’s propaganda campaign. The editorial claims that “U.S. Central Command’s statement testifies to the shameful failure of the Crusaders in their global war against the Islamic State,” although they have long refused to admit it. Thus, al-Naba mocked the U.S. victory over the Caliphate five years ago. IS claims that the crisis of the Kuffar (disbelievers or Christians) has arrived. According to al-Naba, the Pentagon, in its monthly reports on its achievements in the fight against ISIS, proves exactly the opposite – the failure of the U.S. in dealing with the Khilafah. “It’s hard for American Crusaders to understand the reasons for their failure because they measure jihad in terms of letters and numbers,” but al-Naba believes that “jihad is worship, faith, and a divine promise.” In conclusion, the editorial called on IS propagandists to intensify their efforts in the media field and assured that the Pentagon and its Crusader coalition would be defeated not only in this world but also on Judgment Day.

Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production, ISKP’s multilingual propaganda arm, fully endorsed al-Naba’s findings, gloating over the statement of CENTCOM commander. Pro-Islamic State local Telegram channels, “Xuroson Viloyati” in Uzbek and “Al-Azaim-Tojiki” in Tajik, also commented on it and speculated that “the fires of holy jihad will rise” as Gen. Kurilla requested more ammunition for airstrikes against ISKP.

“Uzbek Bahori va Vatan Buti,” another pro-IS Uzbek Telegram channel, derisively described a March report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which warned of the risk of an attack on Uzbekistan by ISKP. Judging by stormy discussions in Al-Azaim media units, rumors of a growing threat from IS-Khorasan inspired the group’s ideologists. It also testifies to the well-established coordination between IS-Central media and ISKP’s local propaganda machine, both in terms of jihadi ideology and its hierarchical subordination.

Consequences for the U.S. and Post-Soviet Central Asia

Thus, ISKP has developed its multilingual propaganda machine to implement its global ambitions. Despite the limited organizational and operational capacity, the group tries to carry out transnational operations. As rightly pointed out by Gen. Kurilla, the main desired goal of IS-Khorasan Wilayat has long been U.S. interests outside Afghanistan.

Undoubtedly, the excessive hype around the mythical threats of ISKP in Western mainstream media is in the terrorist group’s strategic interests to target potential recruits in Central Asia where youth unemployment rates are highest in the world. Therefore, it is expected that ISKP multilingual media outlets watch carefully every announcement made by U.S. politicians and military leaders in counterterrorism fields to generate maximum propaganda benefits from it.

Admittedly, bringing its global ambitions to the international agenda has already boosted ISKP’s propaganda, as the group has demonstrated the ability to quickly adapt its own rhetoric to the changing security situation in Central Asia and in the world.

In conclusion, if the Taliban fail to cope with the growing threat of IS-Khorasan in Afghanistan and curb the global ambitions of their jihadi rivals, then ISKP would be quite capable to rebuild its insurgency and to reconstitute some level of territorial control in the future. The bitter experience of al-Qaeda’s resurgence has taught that the rise of the global ambitions of Salafi-Jihadi groups in Afghanistan have always had direct consequences for U.S. and Western security interests.

A fresh wave of bloody assassination attempts by ISKP on top Taliban officials and its readiness to attack international targets indicates that the Taliban and their Central Asian neighbors can’t take this on alone. Therefore, the post-Soviet countries, despite the opposition from China and Russia, must find acceptable forms of cooperation with the U.S. for intelligence sharing and coordinated counterterrorism measures, including “over-the-horizon” operations to curb the global ambitions of ISKP. Otherwise, they risk facing the global terrorist group ISIS on their own territory in the Fergana Valley in the near future.

author avatar
Uran Botobekov, Ph.D.
Dr. Uran Botobekov is a leading expert on the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Movement, a research fellow, and a member of the Advisory Board of EU Modern Diplomacy. During his career, Dr. Botobekov combined public and diplomatic service for the Kyrgyz government with scientific research. At various times he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the head of the State Policy Department of Governmental Agency for Public Service Affairs of Kyrgyz Government and the Press Secretary of the Kyrgyz President. He also served as the Counselor-Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to Turkey and Ukraine. Dr. Botobekov regularly publishes books, articles, and Op-eds. He is the author of two books, several articles, and book chapters regarding Sunni Jihadism, terrorist financing, and radical Islamism. His research and analytical articles on militant Salafism in the post-Soviet Central Asian space were published in Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Japan, USA, India, China, Vietnam, Germany, and Kyrgyzstan. His 2019 book, “Think Like Jihadist: Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Groups,” analyzes the stages of formation and development of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and other militant groups in post-Soviet Central Asia, as well as their joining global ISIS and al Qaida. At the same time, Dr. Botobekov contributed to media and research platforms such as CSIS, Modern Diplomacy, The Diplomat, The Jamestown Foundation, The American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst and Carnegie Moscow Center on counterterrorism and homeland security issues. He regularly advised governments of Central Asian countries on matters relating to radical Salafism and Islamist extremism.
Uran Botobekov, Ph.D.
Uran Botobekov, Ph.D.
Dr. Uran Botobekov is a leading expert on the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Movement, a research fellow, and a member of the Advisory Board of EU Modern Diplomacy. During his career, Dr. Botobekov combined public and diplomatic service for the Kyrgyz government with scientific research. At various times he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the head of the State Policy Department of Governmental Agency for Public Service Affairs of Kyrgyz Government and the Press Secretary of the Kyrgyz President. He also served as the Counselor-Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to Turkey and Ukraine. Dr. Botobekov regularly publishes books, articles, and Op-eds. He is the author of two books, several articles, and book chapters regarding Sunni Jihadism, terrorist financing, and radical Islamism. His research and analytical articles on militant Salafism in the post-Soviet Central Asian space were published in Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Japan, USA, India, China, Vietnam, Germany, and Kyrgyzstan. His 2019 book, “Think Like Jihadist: Anatomy of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Groups,” analyzes the stages of formation and development of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and other militant groups in post-Soviet Central Asia, as well as their joining global ISIS and al Qaida. At the same time, Dr. Botobekov contributed to media and research platforms such as CSIS, Modern Diplomacy, The Diplomat, The Jamestown Foundation, The American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst and Carnegie Moscow Center on counterterrorism and homeland security issues. He regularly advised governments of Central Asian countries on matters relating to radical Salafism and Islamist extremism.

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