Counter-Terrorism: China Intimidates The Islamic State


March 6, 2021: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) appears to have undertaken an unofficial and unilateral truce with China. That means no more attacks against Chinese in Moslem countries and no more public criticism of Chinese mistreatment of the Moslem Uighurs in northwestern China (Xinjiang province), an area the Uighurs and many Moslems refer to as East Turkistan. The ISIL move was practical, as in there was little chance of success in attacking China or Chinese. What happened in Xinjiang while ISIL was building its “caliphate” in eastern Syrian and western Iraq was scary, and ISIL members don’t scare easy.

ISIL was also following what was going on in Xinjiang, which used to be a Moslem majority province. The Xinjiang Uighurs resisted government efforts to bring in enough non-Moslem Chinese to turn the Uighurs into a minority. In 2010 the Uighurs were no longer the majority, but because of other Moslem minorities in the province nearly 60 percent of the population was Moslem. By 2015 that changed as the national government provided more financial incentives for Han (ethnic Chinese) to settle in Xinjiang. The Uighur resistance was largely passive or vocal but some Uighurs felt a stronger response was needed and there were violent attacks on local police and officials as well as elsewhere in China. By 2017 Chinese counterterrorism efforts had halted all terrorism or separatist activity in Xinjiang. This was achieved with the introduction of a lot of new technology for monitoring the population. This included thousands of vidcams and a very effective facial recognition system. This was in addition to a growing list of methods used to collect data on the non-Han Chinese population, especially anything related to ethnic separatism or Islamic terrorism. This helps the government select those who will be sent to re-education camps (for a few weeks or six months or more.) Since 2017 several million Xinjiang Moslems, most of them Uighur, have spent time in re-education camps. There are only nine million Uighurs in the province and China has sent nearly all the adult (16 or older) males and many females to the camps for as long as needed to achieve “attitude adjustment.”. Uighurs are a shrinking minority in the province and Han Chinese now comprise over half the population. The re-education camps contain very few Han Chinese.

A new generation of security analysis software and hardware is replacing a lot of the older manpower intensive data collection methods. Xinjiang is being used as a test site for new “Big Brother” (as in the anti-communist novel “1984”) technology. This is being done in the name of controlling Islamic terrorism, although there was very little of that in China, even in Moslem majority districts. China was determined to use these new tactics to combat ethnic separatism, which is a real threat especially in Xinjiang and Tibet. On the other hand, the government has made enormous strides when it comes to reducing poverty in Xinjiang and Tibet but that tends to produce more affluent and educated separatists.

ISIL seemed to take the Chinese response seriously because up until 2017 ISIL propaganda included Xinjiang as one of the many areas where they were attacking governments that persecuted Moslems. Until 2017 ISIL propaganda videos often featured Uighurs who had joined ISIL and proclaimed their intention of attacking China and Chinese wherever they found them. Before ISIL, al Qaeda had recruited Uighurs and many were in al Qaeda training camps when the U.S. entered Afghanistan in late 2001 to destroy Islamic terrorist operations. By 2002 the surviving al Qaeda personnel, including many Uighurs, fled to Pakistan where they played a role in attacking the growing number of Chinese construction projects there.

While the Afghan Taliban made peace with Pakistan in return for sanctuary in Pakistan, al Qaeda and later ISIL did not. In 2014 the Pakistani Army launched a major offensive against areas which defiant Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda were using as sanctuaries. After several years of fighting the hostile Islamic terrorists, including ISIL, was forced back into eastern Afghanistan where many of them continue to operate.

ISIL got started in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and it was there that many al Qaeda Uighurs went to join this new, more violent and radical group, to train and get organized to return to Pakistan and Xinjiang to kill Chinese. This never happened because, after a June 2017 when ISIL kidnapped and then killed two Chinese in Pakistan, ISIL suddenly stopped publicizing its Uighur members and plans to liberate East Turkistan (Xinjiang province) from Chinese oppression and occupation. This was uncharacteristic of ISIL, which has remained popular and viable attracting new recruits and financing, because of its constant efforts or pledges to attack the oppressors of Moslems wherever they may be, especially in areas where Moslems lived or once lived, like Spain. ISIL appears to have done the math and realized that the Chinese would not stop in Xinjiang and had enough economic clout in many Moslem majority nations to demand that local governments go after any Islamic terrorist threat to Chinese or Chinese interests.

This was not an unusual response. Russia had a similar experience with Islamic terrorists in the Middle East. In 1985 Shia Islamic terrorists in Lebanon kidnapped four Russian diplomats and killed one of them and threatened to kill the rest if Russia did not withdraw its diplomatic and other personnel from Lebanon. In response the KGB (Russian CIA) kidnapped a relative of an Islamic terror group leader and killed him. Body parts were sent to the Islamic terrorists. The message was clear and the Islamic terrorists responded by freeing the other three Russians and bothered the Russians no more. Throughout the Middle East Islamic terror groups decided that taking on the Russians was not worth the potential losses from the ruthless response. That situation changed after 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved along with the KGB and 80 percent of the Russian armed forces. Soviet economic policies had bankrupted the Soviet Union and Russia, its largest component. Most Moslem majority portions of the Soviet Union, like the millions of Central Asian Moslems, left the Soviet Union and formed four new Moslem majority countries. These four former Soviet territories had neutralized potential Islamic terrorist activity during seven decades of communist rule and KGB reprisals. Once independent, the new Moslem rulers continued the repression of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Al Qaeda and ISIL tried to establish themselves in these former Soviet territories and have been unsuccessful. With Chinese economic activity becoming more visible in these areas there is even more incentive for local fans of Islamic terrorism to leave and head for areas where al Qaeda and ISIL are active and less likely to be exterminated by massive Chinese counter-terrorism measures.

Russia still has problems with Moslem areas that remained part of the post-1991 Russia. This is particularly true with the Chechens, a Moslem group in the Caucasus (southern Russia on the Turkish/Iranian borders) that were always a major problems for the Tsar and then the Soviets. At one point during World War II, Russia deported most of the Chechens from to Central Asia where they would have no opportunities to collaborate with the advancing German forces. The remaining population of Chechnya consisted of non-Moslems who had settled in Chechnya after Russia occupied the area in the 19th century.

Chechens were allowed to return to the Caucasus in the 1950s with the understanding they would behave, or else. That worked until 1991, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union did not include allowing all the Russian regions in the Caucasus to become independent. Moslem Azerbaijan and Christian Georgia and Armenia were allowed to leave because these areas were never as troublesome as the Chechens. In response to this the Chechens embraced Islamic terrorism and declared independence. Two Russian military campaigns in the 1990s suppressed Chechen separatism and Chechens willing to cooperate were put in charge, with the understanding that they could deal with remaining Chechen separatists and Islamic terrorists using “traditional” methods. These were similar to KGB tactics seen in Lebanon and elsewhere in the 1980s. Russia supplied addition special operations troops and air support as needed. Most of the Chechen Islamic terrorists fled to the Middle East where they became prominent in ISIL and al Qaeda, which continued to preach eventual return to Russia.

China came to be viewed as an even more dangerous foe than Russia, and even hardcore ISIL backed off from including China on their target list. This applies to Moslem majority governments in general, which criticize real or imagined persecution by Infidel (non-Moslem) nations. But not China. While most Western nations criticize Chinese persecution of Uighurs, there is little criticism from Moslem majority nations. The main reason is assumed to be economic as China is a major importer of oil from Moslem states and a major source of imports, including high-tech stuff and even weapons. China will sell to anyone who can pay and that appeals to many Moslem majority nations who are unable to get some Western weapons because of fears about how it will be used. An example of this is armed (with laser guided missiles) UAVs. The U.S. refused to sell these to many Moslem states because of fears they would be used against civilians. No problem with the Chinese, who now dominate the market for UAV exports to Moslem nations.




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