As I noted in Al-Qaeda After the Rise of ISIS: India, al-Qaeda has seemingly reconceptualized both the group’s role and its scope of strategic operations in the wake of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
On September 3, Ayaman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of a new al-Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Comprised of a myriad number of groups to include Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, affiliates of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Turkistan Islamic Party, the group ostensibly announced its presence to the world with a dramatic failure. In an attempt to raid a frigate in the port city of Karachi, they were repelled by Pakistani naval forces in grand fashion. Most of the fighters were killed in the attack. However, even in the wake of that failed effort, Al-Qaeda command does not appear to have been deterred from broadening its scope by the failed operation.
In mid-October, al-Qaeda announced its intent to focus their operational planning on China. Noting specifically the conflict beginning to boil in China’s restive northwestern Xinjiang Province, al-Qaeda announced the move in the first issue of Resurgence, a magazine produced by the al-Qaeda propaganda wing “Al-Sahab.” Xinjiang is home to the Uighur minority in China, a Turkic ethnic group of predominantly Muslim Chinese citizens. In recent years, attacks by Uighurs in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China have both raised the profile of the Uighur separatist movement and drawn increasing attention from Chinese security forces.
Last week, The Diplomat published an interesting overview of the contents of the magazine article. Among the highlights was the crux of al-Qaeda’s argument for their involvement:
…the first issue also contains an article entitled “10 Facts About East Turkistan,” which refers to the name given to Xinjiang by those who favor independence from China. The ten facts seek to cast Xinjiang as a longtime independent state that has only recently been brutally colonized by Han Chinese, who are determined to obliterate its Islamic heritage. (Zachary Keck, The Diplomat, October 22)
More intriguingly, the al-Qaeda missive goes into the history of Xinjiang, making the case for al-Qaeda’s involvement. The article notes theories about Chinese oppression of the minority Uighur population in Xinjiang and highlights events designed to elicit emotional reactions from the inhabitants of the region in support of an insurgency: