Uighur jihadists in Syria pose an overlooked yet significant regional and international security problem. They are likely to become a greater threat if fighting in Idlib winds down and the province is not decisively captured by a strong state or nonstate actor hostile to jihadist groups.
“Uighur transnational jihadists fighting in Syria have served as a force multiplier for insurgents there. Without a substantial intervention by the United States, Uighur fighters could gain ground in Idlib, the only Syrian province that still has a large local and foreign jihadist presence.”
Uighur Militants Find Their Place in Syria
After the Syrian regime recaptured southern and central parts of the country from various rebel groups that would otherwise compete with or constrain extremist factions, Idlib emerged as the sole Syrian province with a substantial foreign and local jihadist presence. Uighur militants therefore operate in an increasingly favorable environment and are further strengthened by their working relationship with the al Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Shaam (also known as HTS, formerly Jabhat al Nusra), which sometimes includes fighting alongside the HTS ranks.
Veterans of the Afghan wars, Uighur militants have become known in Syria for their ideological fealty and their fighting prowess. They played a vital role in key battles against the regime over the years, such as Jisr al-Shughur and Abu al-Duhur airbase, the battles that consolidated rebel control over the entire Governorate of Idlib in 2015. Their role became even more central as jihadists crowded out or replaced other, more mainstream, rebel factions. In this context, military competence and ideological solidarity are valuable and have helped embed Uighur jihadists in the broader militant landscape.
As adherents to a transnational jihadist ideology, Uighur militants see the battle for an Islamic realm as indivisible. While they hold parochial grievances against the Chinese government, China is a restrictive environment. Syria offers a more hospitable opportunity against perceived anti-Muslim enemies and, given its central role in Islamic history, an alluring mission. Hence, Uighur fighters headed to Syria after 2011 to fight Bashar al Assad’s Alawite regime in defense of Sunni Islam.
The Uighur presence in Idlib began with the arrival of about 700 families. This population established the Syrian node of the Salafi-jihadist Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), fielding about 1,500 fighters in Syria as of early 2015 (according to rough estimates from sources on the ground), although the exact numbers are unknown and………. “ It seems as if th CGP has discontinued the content of this article. Op-Ed on this coming soon. “
For the rest of the article click here. Credit: Abdullah Al-Ghadhawi. Publication: Center for Global Policy. Source link: https://cgpolicy.org/articles/uighur-jihadists-in-syria/