Isis and Al Qaeda are two sides of the same coin, minted at different times but with a common goal: to recreate the Caliphate abolished by Ataturk. This represents not only a concrete danger for global security, but also risks triggering a war of religion with uncertain outcomes
The terrorism of Isis and Al Qaeda and its possible developments. This is the title of a study, now in its final part, carried out by the group “Indomitables,” which traces the history of the two formations and the phenomena that led to their rise and fall, as well as the “rebirth of the Phoenix”. A new formation, which builds on the peculiarities of each of the two sides of the same coin: leadership, operational and logistical skills, and technology. This in order to recreate with every means, violent in the first place, the Caliphate abolished by Ataturk. The analysis, divided into chapters, intends to be a useful tool to understand the new terrorist form and to look for suitable instruments to contain and/or mediate the disruptive dynamics of Jihadism, covering various geopolitical areas and historical periods. Such developments represent a concrete danger for global security, in the West and elsewhere, and could unleash – as happened in New Zealand and recently in Sri Lanka – a full-fledged religious war with uncertain outcomes, and potential chain reactions leading to a spiral of violence of uncontrollable magnitude and difficult containment.
It is necessary to go back to the past in order to understand the present and plan the future
In the information age, as soon as verified data are released, new ones promptly emerge and need to be verified before being shared. It is not far-fetched to say that, anyhow, it is essential to go back to the past in order to understand the present and plan the future. In this regard, it seems that knowing the past, understanding the present and planning the future is no longer a matter of interest. And that “people” just want to live in the present, without thinking too much. Unfortunately, such a “modus vivendi” is neither convenient nor appropriate. It is time to go back to thinking, since – as we have reported in the previous episodes of this work – the Islamic extremists from the Indian area have joined ISIS’ Wilayat Khorasan. Not to mention the propagandized correlation between ISIS and the Easter 2019 attacks in Sri Lanka. Immediately afterwards, we came across a press statement from the Islamic State, in which its so-called press agency, AMAQ, announced the “birth” of Wilayat India – which the Indian authorities have denied – in the wake of terrorist attacks against the Indian army in Amshipora, in the district of Shopian, Kashmir.
Isis’ infiltration into Kashmir seems to be a prelude to the establishment of a new “operational theatre”, in which to develop the methods of the “hybrid war”
The area of Kashmir – divided between India and Pakistan at the end of British colonialism in 1947 – is contiguous to that of Khorasan, where there are tri-border disputes between India, Pakistan and China. The latter, in the southwestern area, also includes a large number of Uighurs – an Islamic Turkish-speaking ethnic group – spread over the autonomous region of Xinjiang. For years, this ethnic group has been pursuing autonomy from the mother country, also through violent methods, and many of its members, who have joined the ranks of the Islamic State, have also fought in the main operational theatres. The infiltration of ISIS into these areas seems to be a prelude to the establishment of a new “operational theatre” – which could also include the Xinjiang area inhabited by the Uighurs – in which to develop the methods of the “hybrid war”learned from Daesh militiamen in the Syrian-Iraqi region during the so-called “Syrian Spring”.
The region infiltrated by Daesh is well suited to guerrilla warfare, which is difficult to counter and defeat through conventional units
The region, mostly characterized by mountains, is well suited to guerrilla warfare, which is difficult to contrast and defeat through conventional units. In fact, the mountainous environment allows the terrorists to hide/combat/exfiltrate, making profitable use of “fight and run” techniques, as well as of their specific knowledge of the territory. In addition, the area offers Isis considerable opportunities for recruiting new followers, as those who radicalize are usually driven to do so by the lack of freedom and prospects, political and religious oppression by their governments, and the substantial lack of economic and employment opportunities. These problems affect the majority of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, on the margins of which Khorasan Province operates. The same applies to the Hind Province in the Kashmir area – disputed between Hindus and Muslims – where there is a remarkable Muslim enclave, as shown in the Limes map below. All of this raises concerns about potential inter-ethnic clashes similar to those that preceded the separation between India and Pakistan.
Khorasan and Kashmir are where the Islamic State wants to create a “new state” – with the active contribution of all the radical groups of the Islamic world – in which Isis and Al Qaeda could reassemble
Kashmir is therefore an ideal territory, considering that the militiamen had long been looking for a new area where they could reorganize after the setbacks suffered in Iraq and Syria and, for some years, they had been working to relocate their activities in Asia. The strategists of terror have identified the traditional territory of Khorasan – the undisputed kingdom of the Abbasids, employed for the ultimate annihilation of the Alids (successors of Ali, that is, the Shiites – Note 1) – and of Kashmir, the region in which to create a “new statehood”, with the active contribution of all the radical groups of the Islamic world. In this context, the third jihadist diaspora – the expulsion of the USSR from Afghanistan, the neutralization of the Afghan Emirate of Mullah Omar and the defeat of the Caliphate of al Baghdadi – will certainly feed Wilayat Khorasan and Wilayat Hind, reassembling the remains of Al Qaeda and ISIS in a new caliphal embryo placed in the center of a geopolitical and geo-economic area.
The new geopolitical and geo-economic area, an embryo of the Caliphate
The new geopolitical and geo-economic area has the following features:
- development of the New Chinese Silk Road, with China’s economic expansion westwards to reach Europe and Africa;
- strengthening of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization);
- constitution of the UEE (Eurasian Economic Union) – which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan – an economic alliance with a view to expanding in order to include other ex-Soviet countries as well and to create an economic hub on the model of the European Union;
- military cooperation between Russia and China, which is increasingly bringing both states’ interests closer together at the expense of US ambitions in Asia and the Pacific.
ISIS and its puppet masters’ caliphal strategy is to spread among Uzbeks, Turkmen and Tajiks in order to bring jihad eastwards and into the territory of the tri-border dispute (India, China, and Pakistan). The constitution of the two wilayats seems to prelude the reunification of Al Qaeda and ISIS under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood
ISIS and its puppet masters’ caliphal strategy is to spread among Uzbeks, Turkmen and Tajiks – infiltrating States with highly unstable situations in order to bring jihad eastwards and into the territory of the tri-border dispute (India, China, Pakistan). The objective is to extend the caliphal influence also in the southern Asian area – that is, towards India and the Philippines – where a new terrorist structure has been reassembled with elements affiliated to Al Qaeda and the diasporas of ISIS, which carried out terrorist attacks in January 2019. In this context, it is evident that the constitution of the two wilayats seems to prelude the reunification of Al Qaeda and ISIS under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood, notwithstanding that, in recent years, Al Qaeda and ISIS have been opposing and accusing each other of having “diverted” from jihadism.
Some considerations to keep in mind
Nevertheless, some considerations are worth remembering:
- The creation of an “Islamic State” in Syria began under the strategic direction of Al Qaeda, on which Osama bin Laden still ruled. The Pakistani and Saudi information apparatuses supported him, both financially and strategically. His successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri – who is still under the protection of the Pakistani ISI and, probably, a refugee in the Karachi area (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/pakistans-spy-agency-isi-protecting-aym) – is the leader of the Jihadist Muslim Brotherhood;
- the constitution – in January 2015 – of the Wilayat Khorasan with the presence of the Haqqani Network, which has always been an emanation of the Pakistani ISI, brings under its strict control the spores from which various forms of terrorism have germinated in the Islamic areas;
- The June 2017 attacks in Tehran and the quarantine later imposed on Qatar in July and November confirmed this competition between the Brotherhood and Wahhabism. ISIS has done something that Al Qaeda would never have done: it hit the Shiites, also Muslims but belonging to a branch of Islam different from that of the Jihadists, and above all, attacked Iran’s heart, the Parliament in Tehran, with which the Brotherhood has always had confidential relations;
- US support for the condemnation of Qatar and its isolation by the Gulf countries, also functional for the United States to achieve various objectives. Namely, to break the tactical welding between Tehran and Doha in the Gulf area, where the two countries share the large South Pars/North Dome offshore field. This cooperation has made it appropriate for the Emirate to take a softer stance towards Tehran, to the detriment of Saudi interests in the area;
- Reinforce, with US President Donald Trump, the observance of the obligations not fulfilled by the previous Obama presidency – too contiguous to the Brotherhood – and assumed by his predecessors back in 1945 with the Quincy agreement (Note 2) – in order to achieve “two objectives with a single action”;
- Put back in the game the USA-Saudi Arabia-Pakistan “triptych”, which is functional to contain the renewed Russian expansionism towards the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, with the support of Iran. This expansionism would have broken the geo-strategic concept of the Rimland, as opposed to that of Heartland (Note 3);
- To prevent the Muslim Brotherhood, by supporting Qatar, from assuming the leadership of the Islamic world and of the custody of the Holy Places, also with Iran’s indirect assistance.
Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood must be put out of the equation to regain the supremacy of the global Jihadist world, in order to bring it back under unitary guidelines. Al Qaeda, with Hamza bin Laden, will be the operative mind, while Isis will be the armed wing
The objective of putting Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood out of the equation is, therefore, the re-acquisition of the supremacy over the global Jihadist world, in order to bring it back under unitary guidelines. In this way, the leadership of Al Qaeda – in which Al Zawahiri has the ambition to place Osama’s son, Hamza bin Laden, probably as an appealing figure – will once again be the expression of the “operative mind” for the constitution of the caliphate, while ISIS cells will provide their own armed wing. The latter is far superior to the “old” Al Qaeda cells, since it has a greater operational capacity due to its acquired combat experience, new sophisticated technologies (drones), and “metabolized” psychological patterns to be implemented for the reconstitution – albeit by different means and methods – of the Caliphate abolished by Ataturk.
The radical and political interpretation of the three theological guidelines of Islam: Faith, Right Behavior and Submission
It is necessary to consider that Islam, as a whole, contains three theological indications: Faith, which “directs”; Righteous Behaviour, which “compels” every Muslim; and Submission, which allows them to aspire to the “otherworldly kingdom”. However, these religious principles have so far been interpreted in a radical and political way by:
- Wahhabi Islam, which on principle forbids any rational interpretation of the Qur’an and rejects comments on the Islamic message, which is considered to be at one with God and, therefore, immutable, untouchable and uninterpretable. Averroes tried to insert, in the 12th century, the relationship between God and reason as a tool to restore the correct interpretation of Aristotelian logic and the correct comparison between Faith and Reason, but to no avail;
- Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966, ideologist of the Moslem Brotherhood): according to him, Islam is the religion of unification, that is, of Uniqueness. Islam unifies cult and social activity, Dogma and Law, economic values and social ones. In its broadest sense, it is therefore both religion and society, with an indispensable interaction between religion and politics and, as such, it is an ideology as well.
The evolution of “political Islam” has led to the affirmation of all shapes of jihadism, including the Islamic State
It can be inferred that the concepts of civil law, rights and democracy do not exist in a Muslim context. In fact, laws and rights are prescribed in the Qur’an and Sunna (sharia) and come from God. Hence, democracy as a government of the people is not allowed because it would replace God in formulating laws. Since then, the evolution of “political Islam”, ascribable to Islamic orthodoxy that refers to a return to the Qur’an as lived by the Prophet and his disciples (Al Salaf – Salafites), has been increasingly troubled and has led nowadays to the claims of Wahhabi Salafism and the emergence of all forms of jihadism. From a doctrinal point of view, Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate does not differ much from Wahhabism, which states the obligation for all Muslims to swear allegiance to a single Muslim leader, just as ISIS imposes the Bay’ah (oath of allegiance) on new affiliates. ISIS, since its transformation into Al Qaeda in Iraq, has aimed at the reconstruction of the Caliphate and therefore at the unification of the entire Muslim world, as also Saudi Arabia aspires to do. For this reason, the radical fringes of Wahhabism have nurtured and protected a significant part of jihad and Islamic terrorism nowadays. The problem at hand is not Islam as a religion, but the totalitarian political ideology of the Islamists into which they have transferred it.
The difference between “Islamist/Islamism” and “Islamic”
In the introductory part of chapter one, we made it clear that with the terms “Islamist” and/or “Islamism” we mean a set of ideologies according to which the Islamic religion must guide the social, political and personal life of everyone. This conception of Islam is essentially political, intended as transfusion and subjugation of the Islamic religion into political doctrines, echoing what the “Holy Inquisition” did in its time. It must be stressed that the term is not synonymous with “Islamic”, which refers only to the religious sphere and belongs to each individual according to his or her beliefs. In this framework, we do not intend at all to advocate “a clash of civilizations”, but only to separate religious belief from the adoption of political laws to rule a population.
The political radicalization of Islam has emerged during the 20th century
During the 20th century, with the process of decolonization, a radical political interpretation of Islam has taken root and spread, with a strong influence and great appeal on the underprivileged, transforming itself from a tolerant (albeit with certain limitations) “religious Islam” into a “militant and uncompromising Islam”. This view is primarily rooted in the Saudi area, where the Arab tribes wandering in the desert were unified by the Wahhabist-Ikhwan connection, with a bond of unbreakable solidarity between the house of the Saud and that of the religious expert Abdul Wahhab. This combination contributed to the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the annexation of the Hashemite Kingdom of the Hegiaz (Hijaz) of the Mecca Hashemite Sharif Husayn ibn Ali, a lineal descendant of Mohammed. Later, in 1928 in Egypt, militant Islam underwent a further radicalization by the Muslim Brotherhood. This expression of Islamism ended up expanding towards the Iranian area in 1978, where Ayatollah Khomeini introduced and tried to spread his “Iranian Islamic Revolution”. Not to mention the further Deobandi drift that has affected the Indo-Pakistani area and is now spreading towards the Indonesian region and the adjacent Pacific Ocean.
The differences between Islamism and traditional Islam
It is evident that Islamism – which has become a faith converted into a political ideology that is also radical and uncompromising – differs in many ways from traditional Islam. While the latter is a system of personal belief, which focuses on the individual and attributes to each believer the responsibility of living according to the divine will, the former, on the contrary, makes this duty a “reason of State”. A civil obligation that must be imposed – as stated in the Qur’an and without any interpretation – on the whole social and political life of the same State, or rather, on all believers in Islam, that is, the Ummah. The advocates of Islam tell us that Islamism is actually a distortion that has nothing to do with religion, since it adapts faith to the political needs of the modern world, taking on the guise of totalitarianism like Nazi-fascism and Marxism-Leninism. Indeed, the Caliph – who is characterized by the combination of secular and religious power – is a dictator who relies on the Council of the Shura to validate and legitimize the exercise of his authority through the divine imposition of religion, therefore representing a theocratic dictatorship.
As long as there is a combination of secular and religious power, it will be difficult for a “democratic” system to take root in a state of Islamic culture
As long as such a combination persists, it will be difficult for a “democratic” system to assert itself in a state of Islamic culture. In order to separate this promiscuity between religion and politics, Islamic culture must be able to separate religious belief from political action. Undoubtedly, the path to reach this cultural evolution, one capable of satisfying and safeguarding the secular and religious identity (which in turn is not easy to accomplish), is still long. There are, however, some encouraging examples like Tunisia and Turkey. These countries show interesting signs that could be interpreted as early applications of the “democratic state” concept, which is gradually attenuating the uncompromising dominant culture, still imbued with Salafism.
While some interesting signs are coming from Tunisia and Turkey, it is necessary to pay attention to the “wolves” disguised as “lambs”
In Tunisia, the equality of rights between men and women has been constitutionally ratified and Islamists do not accept it for fear that the liberated sexuality of women could lead to the loss of the supremacy of men codified in the Qur’an. In Turkey, Erdogan’s political activity – conducted to assert himself once again as the country’s leader – has made and is making use of the concept of democracy integrated with religion. In short, he based his winning political strategy on changing Turkey’s socio-political status, while preserving the traditions and the moral and family values of each Turkish citizen, integrating them into a democratic policy and a liberal economy. According to his “creed”, “democracy becomes acceptable if it is able to unify a wide variety of differences and different social and cultural demands in the political arena… Policies must be established on the basis of reconciliation, integration and tolerance…”. While such “revisions” can only be encouraged, it should not be overlooked that Islam’s ultimate goal is its global affirmation, with little tolerance towards other religious forms. It is therefore necessary to start thinking again and pay attention to the “wolves” disguised as “lambs” that want to ride the wave of the lower classes’ discontent in order to continue to rule – through the religion/politics combination – while keeping their privileges unchanged. For this reason, we hope that the “revisions” currently underway will not take place through a rejection of religion or democracy, but rather through a separation between public and private spheres, the division between politics and religion and the acknowledgement of the freedom to believe or not to believe.
Thanks from the Authors
We would like to thank the readers who have patiently followed us so far, and who are now probably wondering about the reasons behind this work. The new perspectives raised by the theology of a world that has now been reduced to a “global village” dictate our response. In this “village”, people cannot limit themselves to survive in their own small environment, sheltered from dangers and threats; they must contribute to neutralize them. We have therefore addressed this issue in order to clarify it for our readers, urging them to think and identify possible solutions – based on soft power – to contain the risks that the current form of terrorism puts before us on a daily basis. We believe that our knowledge of the East in general and of the Islamic world in particular is quite extensive and correct in relation to the information currently available. However, we are aware of the relativity of each point of view and of the risks involved in applying our categories to realities so distant and different from ours. We are also aware that it has been scientifically proven that it is not possible to be appreciated by everyone, but we hope to have at least been of interest to the majority of those who have been patient enough to read these lengthy episodes; and for this, we thank all of you.
Note 1: After Muhammad’s death in 632, a strong movement of opinion within the emerging Muslim communities claimed that only the members of Muhammad’s family (the Alids, that is, the descendants of Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, or Shiat Ali, Ali’s party, that is, the Shiites) were the only legitimate leaders of the Muslim community. On the other hand, there were the Sunnis, the followers of the Sunna (those who had better interpreted the sayings of the Prophet). These rivalries have produced three dynasties of caliphates: the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Fatimid Caliphate. On Muhammad’s death, the Rashidun Caliphate was established, the “Orthodox Caliphate” that the Sunnis elected among the most illustrious Muslims for their seniority of faith (or their affinity with the Prophet Muhammad), chosen through efficiency criteria rather than family affiliation to Muhammad, who ruled from 632 to 661. The last of them was Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law, who ruled from 656 to 661. At his death, the caliphate was usurped by the Umayyads who, in the battle of Karbala in 680, killed Ali’s two sons (Hassan and Hussein), who had claimed the control of the caliphate and rebelled against the usurpers. Their descendants and relatives picked up and carried on their protest, and were called Alids from then on. The Abbasids, also part of Muhammad’s extended family through their uncle, Abbas bin Abd al-Muttalib, joined Alids’ discontent, taking advantage of the widespread anti-Umayyad sentiment and the pro-Alids protests fuelling the discontent of the numerous Arab settlers of Khorasan, assumed the leadership of the anti-Umayyad movement and promised the Alids the restitution of the caliphate. However, the Abbasids, while openly expressing their support for Alids’ cause, were preparing and training their army in the Khorasan with fierce and capable warriors in order to take power. In 750, the Umayyads were overthrown and slaughtered, but a branch of the family managed to fled through North Africa, reaching Al-Andalus (Andalusia), where they established the Caliphate of Cordoba (dissident from that of Baghdad), which lasted until 1031. Once the Abbasids gained power, they started a persecution of the Alids in an effort to exterminate them. This forced them to take refuge in the North African area (Morocco), where started the Senussi lineage.
Note 2: On February 15, 1945 – upon returning from the Yalta Conference – on board of the American cruiser “Quincy” near the Suez Canal, a meeting took place between the American president F. D. Roosevelt and the Saudi Arabian King Ibn Saud. At the end of a long discussion, the two leaders reached an important agreement, based on a search for compromise between originally distant positions, on five major subjects:
- the stability of the Saudi Kingdom, oil supplier to the warring West, recognized as an integral part of the “vital interests” of the United States;
- the recognition of the stability of the whole Arabian Peninsula as falling within the scope of the aforementioned “vital interests” of the United States;
- the introduction of an almost exclusive economic, trade and financial partnership between the two countries (Saudi oil revenues would have financed US production, often at the expense of competing European and/or Asian industries);
- the exclusion of US interference in the Saudi Kingdom’s internal affairs: in particular, no code of conduct or other requirement was expressed with regard to the converging search for a common position;
- no agreement was reached on human rights and on the unconditional support of the State of Israel by the United States.
Note 3: Heartland is the geopolitical concept, optimized by the USSR, which identifies Eurasia as the beating “heart” of the terrestrial powers, logistically inaccessible to any thalassocracy: “Those who control Eastern Europe command the Heartland; those who control the Heartland command the World-Island; those who control the World-Island command the world”. The Rimland is the opposed geo-strategic idea pursued by the United States, consisting of the maritime and coastal strip that surrounds Eurasia, divided into three zones: the European coastal zone, the Middle East zone and the Asian zone, to contain Russian expansionism and, in perspective, that of China. For this purpose, NATO (1949), SEATO (1954, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization), the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), originally known as the Baghdad Pact (1955) or the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO, 1959), have been established.
Translated by Andrea Di Nino
Luciano Piacentini – Commander of Operational Detachment and Company in the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin” (SF-Tier 1) of the Italian Army with the rank of Lieutenant and Captain. Assigned to the Army General Staff, he subsequently commanded the “Col Moschin” Regiment. Later he held the position of Chief of Staff of the Paratroopers Brigade “Folgore”. Then he has worked in National Information and Security Bodies with assignments in different areas of the Asian continent. He is graduated in Strategic Sciences and Political Science.
Claudio Masci – Carabinieri Officer coming from the Military Academy of Modena. After having taken over the command of a territorial unit mainly engaged in the fight against organized crime, he passed through National Information and Security Bodies. He graduated in political science. Among his contributions, “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “The future of intelligence” (April 15, 2012, Longitude, the monthly magazine of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Pino Bianchi – Architect, expert in risk management, organization, process re-engineering and business management systems. For over twenty years he has conducted business, marketing, communication and organization activities in American and European multinational companies. Management consultant in ICT, marketing, communication, business planning and project financing.
Claudio Masci and Luciano Piacentini – Authors of the article “The Future of Intelligence” (Longitude, April 15, 2012), and of the books “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “Humint… this unknown (Function intelligence evergreen)”. Buy it from Amazon here.
Yossef Bodansky; Nel nome di Osama bin Laden, Sperling& Kupfer, Milano 2001;
Ahmed Rashid; Talebani, Universale Economica Feltrinelli, Milano 2001;
Ahmed Rashid; Caos Asia, Serie Bianca Feltrinelli, Milano, 2008;
Gilles Kepel; Jihad ascesa e declino, Carocci Editore, Roma, 2001;
Fausto Biloslavo; Le lacrime di Allah, supplemento di PANORAMA, Milano 2001;
Pino Buongiorno; Nemico pubblico, supplemento di PANORAMA, Milano, 2001;
Valeria Giannotta;Erdogan e il suo partito, Castelvecchi Edizioni, Roma 2018;