By Uran Botobekov
April 27, 2018
The ideology of al-Qaeda, based on anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views, is finding more followers among the Jihadi-Salafi groups from Central Asia who consider it their honourable mission to continue the fighting path of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
One of the strong supporters of al-Qaeda is the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, which consists of the militants of Central Asia, mostly Uzbeks of the Fergana Valley. It should be noted that this group was created by a native of southern Kyrgyzstan Abu Saloh (real name Sirojiddin Mukhtarov) in 2014 in Syria, which united the breakaway fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Katibat Imam al Bukhari and Turkestan Islamic Party.
The Al-Qaeda backed Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad is affiliated with the rebel group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and is currently fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Idlib province of Syria. Today, Abu Saloh’s militants are the most combat-ready and well-equipped group among the Central Asian Jihadi-Salafi groups in the Middle East. But not only the military power of this group represents the main threat to security and stability for the countries of post-Soviet Central Asia, Russia and Xinjiang of the Uygur Autonomous Region of China. The greatest danger comes from the ideological doctrine of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad and its ability to successfully spread the ideas of al-Qaeda on a global scale.
The leader of the group Abu Saloh, fluent in Uzbek, Uighur, Russian and Arabic, in the early 2000s received a theological education at the Islamic University of Al-Fatah al-Islamiya in Syria. It was there that he became an ideological supporter of al-Qaeda, deeply studied the theological works of Islamic scholars, the founders of the radical current of Salafism and Wahhabism Ibn Taymiyyah and Abd al-Wahhab. After graduating from university, he returned to Kyrgyzstan, worked as an assistant to the imam in one of the mosques in the Osh region.
The spiritual guide of Abu Saloh was the famous Islamic preacher in Central Asia Rashod Qori Kamolov, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for inciting religious discord and the possession and distribution of extremist materials. As a scientist, who studies the ideology of radical Islam, I met him several times and polemicized about the hostility of the ideology of Salafism and Wahhabism in our Ferghana Valley.It is very sad that the pupil of Rashod Qori Kamolov from the village of Kashkar-Kyshtak of Kyrgyzstan Abu Saloh chose the path of Islamic terrorism and extremism, for which he should be rightly punished before the law.
The persistent study of the Wahhabi literature and love of the Salafi ideology led him back to Syria in 2012, and he joined the terrorist group Katibat Imam al Bukhari. Thanks to his profound knowledge of the Koran, oratory and leadership skills, Abu Saloh quickly rose through the ranks, became a spiritual mentor of the Mujahideen. In battles with the Syrian government troops, he was wounded in the eye and treated in the city of Gaziantep in Turkey. In the fall of 2014, Abu Saloh decided to withdraw from the Katibat Imam al Bukhari and organized his own group, which he named Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad. The new group included citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and some Uighurs of Western China, which became a structural unit of al Qaeda backed Jabhat al Nusra.
Every day, through the group’s website and via online social media services Telegram, Facebook, VK, Odnoklassniki and YouTube, Abu Saloh actively disseminates his public speeches, audio and video clips, which include stories of the military battles of Uzbek militants in Syria. On the channel Telegram under the nick name Jihod Shomali (Wind of Jihad), Tavhid Xabarlari (News of Tawhid), Abu Salohdarsliklari (Lectures of Abu Saloh), Saad Muhtor, Golos Shama (Voice of Sham), more than 200 audio and video sermons of Abu Salokhaare disseminated with the call to jihad. His secure personal page in Telegram has several thousand followers. His encrypted personal page in Telegram has several thousand followers.
After conducting a comprehensive analysis of audio and video public performances of Abu Saloh, as an expert on the radicalization of the ideology of Islam, I must note that he has a deep religious erudition, knows by heart the Quran’s Ayats and the Hadith of Imam al-Bukhari. He brightly and emotionally expresses his thoughts, confidently holds among the crowd and is able to inspire a new generation of Mujahideen to suicide attacks.
It is known that the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad organized three explosions in different parts of the world with the help of suicide bombers. The first time he used the 19-year-old Uzbek youth Babur Israilov from Jalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan as Shaheed, when in the fall of 2015 in the Syrian city Al-Fu’ah he blew up an armoured car stuffed with explosives behind enemy lines. The second time he chose a Uighur militant (his name is unknown, but he had a fake passport in the name of Tajik citizen ZoirKhalilov) for the suicide attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan in August 2016.The third victim was Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, an ethnic Uzbek from Osh Kyrgyzstan who blew up the St. Petersburg metro in April 2017, during which 14 passengers were killed and about 50 people were injured.
Now Abu Saloh has become a fanatical follower of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, an ardent propagandist of al-Qaeda ideology and the most wanted terrorist in the post-Soviet space. Thanks to oratory he has no equal among the leaders of terrorist groups from Central Asia in the scale and effectiveness of the propagation of the ideology of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains the hero and martyr for the leader of the Uzbek jihadists, and Al-Qaeda’s strategy and tactics uses them as a model in the fight against the “crusaders” of the West. In ideological work, Abu Saloh adopted the style, methods and forms of submitting information al-Qaeda, so that Uzbek jihadists are now on the front flank of the global jihad. Today, after the fall of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the number of ISIS supporters in Central Asia has declined markedly, but Abu Saloh successfully continues to recruit new volunteers for the ranks of al-Qaeda. Below we consider some ideological fragments from the public statements of the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, which are directed against the US, Israel and Russia.
Jihad as Bin Laden’s Covenant
In his public speeches, audio and video materials, Abu Saloh emphasizes the continuation of the jihad against the Jews, Christians and political regimes of Central Asia.
For example, in one of the speeches, called “The Ayats and Hadiths calling for Jihad”, Abu Saloh says: “Islam is the purest religion in the world. Before Namaz we do Ghusl (the full-body ritual purification mandatory before the Namaz) and Wudu (the Islamic procedure for washing parts of the body, a type of ritual purification), spiritually and physically purified. Namaz is done only in a clean place. Therefore, we try to ensure that there is no garbage at home. The house of a Muslim must always be clean and tidy. Today in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are based the military of the US and Russia. They polluted these countries. Our task is to purify the sacred land of Islam from “garbage”. We must drive out infidels from Islamic territories. America is a big country; it has modern nuclear missiles, airplanes and powerful military equipment. It is difficult to compete with America in an open battle. But we rely on Allah. And who is stronger? Of course, Allah! Faith in Allah makes us stronger than the enemy. Therefore, we are conducting a jihad against the Crusaders in Afghanistan and Sham. This is our sacred duty to Allah.”
These words of Abu Saloh logically develop the thought of Ayman al-Zawahiri that America is the first enemy of Muslims around the globe. As already known, in a statement distributed by at-Tamkin Media on March 20, 2018, the al Qaeda leader Zawahiri tries to rally jihadists and other Muslims around the idea of striking the US. “The Mujahidin will defeat America – Allah permitting – for the sake of Allah, and the scholars working and the sincere makers of Dua’ and the united Ummah under the banner of Tawhid [monotheism]”, said al-Qaeda’s leader. As we see, Zawahiri’s appeal to wage jihad against America was supported by the leader of Uzbek militants Abu Saloh.
Jihad In Syria Opens The Way To Palestine
The subject of jihad Abu Saloh further developed in his speech, which is called “Why we do make jihad in Syria?”He says: “If they ask why you are doing jihad in Syria? Why do not you do jihad in Central Asia, where many innocent Muslims are imprisoned? Allah neither in the Quran nor in the Ayats said that Muslims should do jihad only in their homeland. Osama bin Laden said that jihad in Afghanistan is a preparation for the liberation of the sacred land of Palestine. He argued that if there is no possibility of doing jihad at home, then Muslims should make Hijrah (the migration or journey of Muslims) to another country in order to better prepare for the jihad. We did not have the opportunity to wage jihad in Central Asia, and we made Hijrah in Afghanistan and Sham. Jihad in Sham is a preparation for the liberation of the fertile land of Palestine and Central Asia from infidels. In Sham we undergo real combat training. Here we learned how to make bombs, shoot down enemy planes, operate tanks and ruthlessly beat in the heart of the enemy. At home, we would not have the opportunity to learn this. We are ready to free Palestine from the Jews. We’ll go there. It’s only a matter of time”.
Abu Saloh also said: “The centre of the Umayyad Caliphate was Sham, where we today are involved in jihad. The Umayyad Caliphate brought Islam to Central Asia in the 7th century. Today the descendants of the Umayyads are in a difficult situation. Crusaders advance on the land of Sham. We came here to help the descendants of the Umayyads and conduct jihad against the enemies of Islam. We fulfil our duty to the Umayyads, who have opened our hearts to Allah Most High.”
These words of Abu Saloh synchronously repeat the main idea of Bin Laden and Zavahiri about the need for “the liberation of Palestine and the destruction of the Zionist regime of Israel.”In January 2009, Osama bin Laden declared a “holy war” against Israel, planned to release Palestine from the Jordan River to the sea.”We do not recognize a single piece of Jewish land in the territory of Palestine,” he said.
The fate of Palestine remains the main theme in the speeches of Ayman al Zawahiri, who he is trying to inspire a new generation of Islamists to jihad against the US-led ‘Zionist-crusaders’ alliance. Their appeal was heard by the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad Abu Saloh, who continued the general line of Al Qaeda to liberate the Palestinian lands from the “oppression of Satan”. He added to the list also Central Asia, which should be part of the future Islamic Caliphate.
Is Jihad Ended In Syria?
In his public Da’wah (preaching of Islam), audio and video performances, Abu Saloh often criticize religious leaders and imams of Central Asia for “they betrayed Islam and serve the interests of official authorities”. So, in one of the speeches, called “Is jihad over in Syria concluded?” he said that “the leaders of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are losing their faith. They are propagating heresy and are promoting apostasy.”
Abu Saloh says: “Some muftis of Central Asia call the Mujahideens who are fighting in Sham “strayed” and claim that the time of Jihad has passed. But they are telling lies. Because the time of Jihad is just beginning. I want to remind them of a story from Hadith. After the conquest of Mecca and Medina, the Ashaba (Companions) were asked by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to lay down their arms, unsaddle their horses and return home. In their opinion, they defeated the enemies of Islam and the time of jihad ended. And then the Prophet Muhammad answered them that jihad did not end, it is just beginning. Today, those who call the Mujahideen “strayed” and urge them to return home, oppose the will of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).They will burn for their sins in hell. Only with the sword we can spread Islam in the world and protect it from the attacks of the Crusaders”.
His assertion that the jihad has not ended in Syria is clearly synchronized with the thoughts of Ayman al Zawahiri. The continuation of jihad in Syria is important for the further mobilization of the Salafi-Jihadi groups around al-Qaida since its fundamental ideology is built on the concept of jihad against the “infidels”. The al Qaeda emir emphasized, that “Levant today is the hope of the Muslim Ummah (worldwide community of Muslims),” and urged to continue the jihad to establish the “rightly guided caliphate.”
The US Levers against Katibat Al Tawhid Wal Jihad
As this analysis has shown, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, despite its young age, has already taken the leading position among the Salafi-Jihadi groups to expand the influence and spread the ideology of Al Qaeda in the Central Asian region. The main role in this belongs to the leader of the group Abu Saloh, who with his emotional lectures successfully continues to recruit young militants into the ranks of regional branches of Al-Qaeda. As a religious disciple of Ayman al Zawahiri, he is loyal to Al-Qaeda, actively fighting the enemies of Islam, not only with weapons in Syria, but also waging an ideological war against the influence of the West.
The sermons of Abu Saloha pose a greater danger than the fighting of all marginal jihadist groups from Central Asia that are in jihad in Syria and Afghanistan. Because he as a successful propagandist of Salafism, managed to infect thousands and thousands of people in the Ferghana Valley with the ideology of Al-Qaeda, win a huge audience and inspire them to wage jihad against the United States, Russia and the secular regimes of Central Asia. This means that al-Qaeda has recently significantly strengthened its global network in Central Asia and created clandestine resources that can be mobilized in case of local needs and emergencies. In the event of an aggravation of the political, economic, social and religious situation, the younger generation of al-Qaeda supporters raised in the sermons of Abu Saloh can destabilize the entire region.
Recently, the US State Department designated Central Asian jihadist group Katibat Imam al Bukhari to the list of global terrorist organizations. Given that Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad poses a threat to US interests in the Middle East and Central Asia, the US authorities should consider including it also in the list of global terrorist organizations. I know that such measures on the part of the US are very effective and sobering for the Central Asian jihadist groups. After being designated as a terrorist group the activity of Katibat Imam al Bukhari significantly decreased, even after he had to publish a special exculpatory statement in his defence. Because of possible pin-point US air strikes, many jihadist groups from Central Asia try not to get on the list of the US State Department.