Detailed analysis by Peer Viqar Ul Aslam and Muqeet Ul Amin
New Delhi – ISIS global jihadist expansion is not a myth with jihadist groups around the world pledging allegiance to so-called ”self-proclaimed” caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. ISIS’ state-of–the-art propaganda material triggered a huge number of defections in al-Qaeda ranks and those of other major radical groups influencing the top leaders to support ISIS’ global vision of one sharia state guided by their own radical interpretation of Islam.
Soon after ISIS proclaimed its caliphate in June 2014, many jihadist groups in close proximity to ISIS’ jihadist ideology immediately pledged allegiance to the newly formed militant state. The quick influx of numbers and support included many radical jihadist scholars who quickly evangelized their mission statement of a global Islamic caliphate extending from Spain to Indonesia and parts of Central Asia — a vision dating back to the golden era of Islam which they claim will bring back the glorious period of Islamic history with its dominance over one third of the world.
Due to the ideological difference between al-Qaeda and ISIS, many jihadist groups quickly adhered to ISIS propaganda and started to extend their allegiance by accepting the authority of Islamic state over their groups to consolidate new geographical positions. ISIS not only accepted their allegiance but organized them as provinces, governed by its central command. It restructured the command in these newly added provinces and groups and gave them new identities. The new alliance with various jihadist groups around the world strengthened the central position of ISIS and these groups fulfilled the requirement of battle-tested fighters who would help train and equip the new recruits in Syria. This mass migration of radical jihadists from across the world gave global recognition and created a channel of recruitment that helped ISIS create sleeper cells across Europe and West and Central Asia, extending the reach of ISIS globally.
ISIS and its affiliate groups are prolific in producing propaganda imagery depicting its gruesome executions of hostages, combat training and threats aimed at spreading fear among Western countries and inspiring radicalized youth from around the world to join the Holy War. We tried to understand many of these affiliations as their numbers have grown in the 32 months since the proclamation of Baghdadi as the leader of faithful.
With the majority of mainstream Muslim scholars and populations rejecting its claim of caliphate, there are no Muslim states that have recognized or supported the Islamic State. Many Muslim countries have been victims of ISIS’ brutality. Among the top Muslim nations who have led the fight against ISIS are Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, the UAE, Egypt and Qatar. These countries have been strong allies of the West against ISIS, and they werepart of Obama’s anti-ISIS coalition. After the Arab Spring, most Arab countries have seen instability and security crises which have led to the formation of radical groups and jihadist control of some territories within their borders. These states have tried to check and eradicate these elements, but what once were pockets of al-Qaeda strongholds are now launch pads of the Islamic State’s global mission, so committed and extreme that even Al Qaeda prefers to stay away from them.
ISIS has formed about nine provinces (wilayah) in Libya, Sinai, Algeria, Khorasan, Yemen, West Africa, North Caucasus, Southeast Asia and Gaza. Hundreds of radical groups have pledged their allegiance to ISIS from these provinces, and ISIS has united most of them to form unified operational groups fighting their own governments over anti-ISIS military support to Western forces.
Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, ISIS’ official spokesman was reported to have said, “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way — however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him or poison him.”
It was during the overthrow of Dictator Muammar Gadhafi in 2011 that the Islamic State took root amid the political chaos in this North African nation. Three armed Islamist groups have claimed allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since late 2014. Bound by a central command, the three groups are distinguished by location: Tripoli Province in the west, Barqa Province in the east, and Fezzan Province in the south. They have fighters in Tripoli and the major cities of Misrata, Benghazi and Derna triggering frequent battles with security forces.
According to the U.S. and Libyan secret services, there are around 5,000 fighters present in these three provinces. It is the only major area outside Syria and Iraq controlled by a group related to the Islamic State. ISIS’ Tripoli faction also controls Gadhafi’s birthplace in the city of Sirte along the Mediterranean coast. The U.S. has been successful twice in neutralising Islamic State figures that controlled the Tripoli Province while the other two factions operate to amplify the economy by controlling the oil reserves.
Some pro-ISIS groups in Libya are the Islamic Youth Shura Council, the Lions of Libya, the Shura Council of Shabab al-Islam Darnah and Islamic State Libya. All of these groups pledged their allegiance about three years ago.
Fighters of Jund al-Khilafah pledged allegiance to ISIS in September 2014, when ISIS gained infamy after beheading French tourist Hervé Gourdel. Since then, the group has been largely dormant after reports suggested its leader, Khalid Abu-Sulayman, was killed by Algerian counter-terrorism forces in December 2014.
Some other major groups that pledged allegiance to ISIS are al-Huda Battalion in the Islamic Maghreb on June 30, 2014, al-Ghurabaa on July 7, 2015, Al-Ansar Battalion on Sept. 4, 2015, and Djamaat Houmat ad-Da’wa as-Salafiya (DHDS) on Sept. 19, 2015.
Consisting mainly ofdefectors from the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other militant groups, this province (wilayah) was formed after an announcement by ISIS in January 2015. Often fighting with Afghan military and the Afghan Taliban, Khorasan Province has established a stronghold in Eastern Nangarhar province.
Joint operations of the U.S. and Afghan military have led to the deaths of many of Khorasan’s new leaders. On Jan. 16, 2016, the ISIS combatants of this province carried out their first attack in Afghanistan on a Pakistani consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. At least seven members of Afghan security forces were killed, after which Ashraf Ghani, the afghan president, vowed to “bury” local ISIS-affiliated groups. The Afghan government says the number of rebels is in thousands. They have marked their presence in Helmand province too.
The Islamic State’s Khorasan wing is committed to expanding into Kashmir (A conflict zone disputed between India and Pakistan) to fight Indian forces. They are joined by defectors from Lashkar-e-Taiba — a splinter group of al-Qaeda, as well as some Indian and Bangladeshi jihadists.
In March 2015 the first affiliate to the Islamic state in Yemen announced itself in Sana’a. A series of deadly bomb blasts at mosques in Sana’a followed, and ISIS claimed responsibility. They took advantage of a security lapse which was a result of a war between a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition and Houthi rebels.
Ranks in smaller aligned groups and Sana’a province are filled mainly by defectors of the Yemen based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, this al-Qaeda group was one of the most dangerous terror groups. The two tools the Islamic state uses to enforce their ideology are brutality and well-organized propaganda. Their numbers are believed to be in the hundreds but still very dangerous, according to expert analysts.
Islamic State West Africa
Boko Haram pledged allegiance in March 2015 and was renamed Islamic State West Africa Province. Boko Haram doesn’t control as much territory in northeastern Nigeria as it once did after a recent Nigerian military action. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” in English; the group is intolerant to Western influence over Muslims.
Boko Haram’s war on the Nigerian government has claimed more than 28,000 lives, according to a New York-based council on foreign relations and another 2.5 million people have been displaced, according to the U.N. Though they are responsible for all major Nigerian attacks, the most hideous of their crimes is the abduction of school girls which triggered a global outrage against Boko Haram in 2014.
Northern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
Believed to be in the thousands by researchers, radical groups in Egypt pledged their allegiance in November 2014. This province is considered to be the hub of the most powerful militant group, formerly called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Made up of Egyptian radical jihadists who have fought alongside the local Bedouins and Egyptian defectors from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iran, it operates mainly in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
Using the latest technology has been a trademark of their attacks that are growing in strength. They killed at least 21 security personnel in Egyptian army outposts in a series of suicide bombings in July 2015. The attacks were well organized, and every move was carefully arranged. After three months they claimed responsibility for killing 224 passengers and crew when they shot down a Russian airliner flying over northern Sinai.
Egyptian military operations have attacked the province and claim that there is no major support for ISIS.
Radical groups like Ansar Bait al-Maqdis and Jund al-Khilafah are key supporters of ISIS in Egypt.
Jihadi leaders from the Caucasus, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan regions pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. After a few months, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, then the spokesperson of ISIS approved their allegiance and appointed Abu Mohammad al-Qadari as the leader of the Caucasus affiliate.
Southeast Asia Province
On July 23, 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon in the Philippines pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people so they could be held for ransom in the name of ISIS. In early 2015, members of Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. At the same time, Ansar Khalifa Philippines was born from a merger of Ansar Khalifah Sarangani with other pro-ISIS radical groups.
Islamic State in Gaza
The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem announced its support for ISIS in February 2015. In April 2015, Army of Islam and the Gaza Battalion of Ansar Bait Al Maqdis formed the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, also known as the Islamic State in Gaza as its operational capabilities are limited to Gaza.
In 2014, a Palestinian journalist was reportedly kidnapped and tortured by a group of militants identifying themselves as members of the Islamic State.
The Hamas government in Gaza considers the Islamic State as a threat to the safety of Gaza and has rallied its soldiers against ISIS’ presence in Gaza.