03/22/2022, 10.23
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Isis and Jihad ride the 'Christian' war between Russians and Ukrainians

by Dario Salvi

Islamic extremist movements are exploiting Moscow's "crusader" conflict in Kiev to launch new attacks. From the escalation in Syria to the massacre at the Shiite mosque in Pakistan, episodes of violence are multiplying. Celebrations for every 'Christian' victim on the Russian and Ukrainian sides. Unacceptable to send Muslims to the battlefield, the Chechens 'apostates'. The Taliban against the war. 

Milan (AsiaNews) - The Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) and jihadist movements are exploiting the war between Christian "crusaders" in Ukraine - where a military invasion launched by Russia is underway - to regroup and intensify their attacks in Syria and Iraq. In the last period alone, there has been an escalation against the government forces in Damascus and its allies, with a series of ambushes in the desert area between the two nations that have caused dozens of victims.The governorates of Homs and Deir el-Zor, on the border with Iraq, are the epicentres of this new extremist and radical wave. It is the same area from which the Caliphate militiamen had withdrawn in 2019 after losing their last stronghold. 

Isis, escalation of attacks

On 6 March, the official Sana news agency, relaying a government military source, reported that "at least 13 soldiers were killed and 18 others were wounded" during an ambush on a military vehicle. The "terrorists" struck in the desert of Palmyra, in the province of Homs. On March 10, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO based in the United Kingdom with a dense network of correspondents in the area, reported the death of six members of the government army and the wounding of seven others in the explosion of a mine hidden in the ground by the men of the "caliphate" near Jabal al-Amour; also in this case it was in a desert area in the area of Palmyra, in the eastern sector of Homs. And again, on 16 March, an Isis cell struck military targets belonging to the Iranian forces in the Syrian desert, killing three people.

In response to the escalation of attacks and violence, the government in Damascus has reinforced the presence of soldiers in the governorate, where the city is located, symbolised by its ancient ruins, by sending military vehicles, weapons and soldiers from the 14th Special Forces division in support. Hammam Issa, a journalist based in Idlib, the last stronghold in the hands of the anti-Assad rebels in Syria, told al-Monitor that the Islamic State's attacks against government soldiers that have been going on "for years" show that the movement "still has the ability to plan and strike".

Government forces seem to be "almost powerless" in the face of the blitzkrieg operations and ambushes launched in the Syrian desert. From Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, colleague and expert Raed al-Hamid confirms the numerous "clashes" between government forces, supported by Iran and Russia, with hidden Isis cells ready to strike. "It is fundamental that the Islamic State claims responsibility for each attack," he adds, "in order to prove its existence. 

The conflict between "crusaders

In the meantime, the jihadist and Islamic fundamentalist galaxy, with the sole - though notable - exception of the Taliban, is enthusiastically celebrating the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, two "nations of unbelievers" and proponents of a "war between crusaders", rejoicing at the victims on both sides. The militia groups show no particular sympathy or enmity for Kiev or Moscow, celebrating every single "Christian" victim in this war that most of them cannot even understand. Moreover, the Chaldean Patriarch himself, Card. The Chaldean Patriarch himself, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, told AsiaNews in an interview that Iraqi Muslims do not understand the reasons behind the conflict and are surprised that the followers of Christ can go to war with each other.

While global media attention focuses on Ukraine, as it did two years ago at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic over the health emergency, jihadist groups have developed a narrative that stigmatises both sides as common enemies and hostile to Islam. In an editorial published last week in its magazine al-Naba, Isis defines the war as a "punishment" imposed on "Christian unbelievers" who are guilty of "exporting" their battles to Muslim countries. Al-Qaeda, whose communication is slower and more thoughtful than IS, has not yet commented officially.

However, a theologian close to the group such as Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi launched a message on Twitter rejoicing that "this war continues" in the same way that others have rejoiced at the destruction of Muslim nations. According to L'Orient-Le Jour (LOJ), the radical thinker Abu al-Fatah al-Farghali, close to Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Hts, formerly al-Qaeda in Syria), says that "having the oppressors annihilate each other" is "in the interest of Islam". Only the Taliban emerge from the chorus of general satisfaction, with a note of discordant tones. In the aftermath of the Russian invasion, the Qur'anic scholars in power in Kabul expressed "concern" for the "civilian victims". In line with their "policy of neutrality in foreign affairs", the Taliban concluded by calling on Kiev and Moscow for "moderation" and "dialogue".

In spite of reports of mercenaries being taken from the Syrian (and Middle Eastern) front to fight in Ukraine, the jihadist movements reject possible camp choices between two nations of "unbelievers" and exalt the dichotomy between "Muslims and non-Muslims". As Aymenn al-Tamimi, a scholar at George Washington University in the United States, explains, they reject the use of fighters to prevent "Muslims from dying for unbelievers", which they consider "unacceptable".

From this perspective, the Chechen militias stationed by Moscow, and largely composed of Muslims, are disavowed and their members branded as 'apostates'. Some Hts cadres may be happy for the Russian casualties, mindful of Moscow's bombings in Syria that were instrumental in turning the tide of the war in favour of President Bashar al-Assad. However, this satisfaction does not translate into help for Ukrainians, not least because Kiev's troops took part in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and have more recently been deployed as part of the international coalition in the US campaign against Isis.

"The global and media interest in Ukraine", concludes Damien Ferré, founder of the Jihad Analytics agency, "allows Isis to relaunch military operations, ambushes and attacks on the ground. And even intensify them, because "there is less attention" towards these groups. Proof of this is the fact that the day after the publication of the commentary on the war at the gates of Europe, the IS struck - claiming it - with a suicide attack in Pakistan that caused the death of at least 64 worshippers in a Shiite mosque.

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