The Rise of ISIS-K and what it means for us (U.S.)
Over the last couple of years the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) remains somewhat limited in its ability to follow through on its threats but it has become a relatively powerful media force much like the ISIS we all became familiar with several years ago.
With the fall of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic States’ media has scaled back its multilingual propaganda output and narrowed the scope of its messaging to mostly focus on general religious issues and the operations of its most active networks in Africa and Asia so we do not hear much about them or from them here in the United States. What this has done is left a gap that ISKP has happily and successfully filled, especially since the evacuation from Afghanistan by the United States.
ISKP has gotten so good at utilizing the media that it has expanded its propaganda to include more content and in more languages that even ISIS at the height of the caliphate. While they started with local and regional media output, ISKP is now changing much of their focus to larger regional and even international efforts.
ISKP, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (الدولة الإسلامية – ولاية خراسان) or, as you might remember, “ISIS-K” is an affiliate of the Islamic State militant group active in South Asia and Central Asia. ISIS-K is considered to be an enemy of even the Taliban. Originally the group was made up of militants who left both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban.
Whereas previously the group’s animosity was focused almost exclusively on the Taliban, the United States, and the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the ISIS-K media machine is now turning its crosshairs toward Beijing, highlighting allegations of genocide against Uyghurs and encouraging supporters to retaliate by committing violence against Chinese interests. A gutsy group to be sure.
It is hard to imagine that a violent group like ISIS-K would ever be that group that adopts a human rights issue, you have to understand that this is a smart group that understands marketing. Recognizing the atrocities of the Uyghur oppression has given ISIS-K the edge when it comes to recruiting and branding. (Look, they are not that bad…they care!) Because the cause of the Uyghur is of concern to Muslims everywhere, ISIS-K has their recruiting where it wants it by exploiting the situation and making it appear that they are the only group taking action against the Chinese for these atrocities.
The plan has created a great sweet spot for ISIS-K since China is the only country that has partnered with the Taliban. With China after the natural resources and money-making potential of Afghanistan, ISIS-K is attempting to show China that the Taliban cannot provide a secure environment in China’s new Afghan playground.
As I said, the group’s goals are definitely global and while right now they are primarily focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the messaging is that they will be going after what it sees to be corrupt governments by inciting attacks in the West, reinstating an Islamic caliphate. The group has published several references to future attacks against Russian, American and Indian targets. The latest issue of ISIS Khorasan Province’s Voice of Khurasan Magazine devotes five of its 68 pages to America’s short obsession with balloons.
“America, the largest military spender of the earth, is now afraid of gas balloons flying over its sky.”
“Another interesting part of the show is that such an unidentified gas balloon can cause great fear of the US, a big monster deprived of sound intellect, so what if the unidentified soldiers of Allah bring American cosmopolitan cities to knees due to the flames of just terror that the Goliath failed to deal with effectively up until now, since it has found no way for tackling the ‘open source radicalization’ other than isolating the citizens of the no.1 country of the world by disconnecting the internet service, which is like striking own leg with axe.”
The group then states that the balloon was a distraction from American domestic problems including “regular mass shooting which has turned out to be one of favorite US leisure activities these days.”
“In the coming days, you might be seeing the high-tech dumb-headed Goliath of the time investing billions in R&D projects for developing high-tech systems for preventing extra-terrestrial suspicious mosquitos from entering their airspace,” the article said, adding that “it seems that the US vows to make its lands and skies impenetrable, although there remains the question about what might happen in case of the land of the Aad and Thamud of the time fall victim to deadly earthquakes that happened in Turkey in the recent times.”
The reference to Aad and Thamud is a reference to two cities in Islamic lore that existed before the time of Abraham. The cities were visited by Allah’s prophets and refused to heed warnings resulting in the destruction of the cities. The publication questions whether or not the United States has what it takes to “digest” another “9-11 styled heavy blow to its mainland”.
A 2019 propaganda poster titled “The Airship” from an ISIS-supporting media group showed a hot-air balloon floating over the U.S. Capitol with a handful of uniformed soldiers photo-shopped in the foreground. The info=graphic suggested that operatives can “burn large areas using the airship, by throwing (fire) from the airship on different places after you pass over the forest.” They suggested using the balloon to surveil and target military leaders from above, or using it as a “booby-trapped plane” through which explosives can be sent to a target location.
“Airship can be used for transportation, hiding and migration,” the poster continued. “The idea can be developed by a specialist to make the airship work via (remote control) to carry out attacks.”
So, how much should we be concerned about this propaganda machine? Less than one month ago Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the group known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K could potentially conduct attacks on the U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning.
Another recent magazine release featured a poster titled "Kill Them Wherever You Find Them!" and referred to public events as targets such as concerts and sporting events.
ISIS-K is proving that they have the ability to multi-task, they have a great handle on marketing and recruiting and the Taliban is not their only target. The take-a-way here is that some day soon, we will see the fruits of their labors by the hands of a well-recruited, well-radicalized American or group of Americans.
Over the next year we need to take a look at our current abilities to monitor movement and what softer targets we have that could be strengthened. It is important that we remember that 9-11 occurred with no warning.