According to some very recent official Syrian sources, last April over 5,000 jihadists entered from the Turkish border, heading for Idlib and Aleppo.
They include an undefined – albeit considerable – number of Uyghurs coming from the Chinese Xinjiang.
Allegedly the technical and operational support to this new jihad was provided by the Turkish services and special units of the Turkish Armed Forces, namely the “Brown Berets”.
Some sources speak of 1,500 jihadists from Xinjiang, while others of at least 1,000 jihadist militants coming from that Chinese region.
The organizational and training support for this operation was provided supposedly not only by the Turkish forces, but also by the Turkmen guerrillas themselves, who had already been active in shooting down the Sukhoi Su-24M aircraft and removing its crew from the ground in November 2015.
It is worth recalling that the Soviet plane had been shot down by the Turkish air force for an alleged violation of its airspace.
It is also worth recalling that currently all the Turkish ruling and opposition parties support the “Turkmen” jihadists’ efforts in the Syrian region.
Before the beginning of war in Syria, the Turkmen jihadists had always lived in the rural areas east of Aleppo and on that part of the coast near Latakia known as Jabal al-Turkman.
Currently in Aleppo the specifically “Turkman” brigade known as Liwa al Mu’tasem Billah operates, even though it has been present there as early as the start of clashes. Nevertheless, so far the Turkish population has been represented by the “Assembly of Syrian Turks”, founded in 2013 by the Turkish government and precisely by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Davutoglu.
This is the real “revolving door” of the aid transiting from Turkey to the Uyghur and Turkmen jihad, both on the border with Turkey and inside Syria.
Since the beginning of hostilities, the support for this minority, including the obviously covert military assistance, has been organized by the Turkish NGO named IHH, already well-known to the world public for its operations in support of HAMAS military actions in Gaza on May 31, 2010, with its Freedom Flotilla.
On January 10, 2016, Russian aircraft hit the IHH warehouses in the Jabal Al Turkman.
After all, the AKP itself has ancient roots linking it to a “covert” part of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood which, once the Constitutional Court prevented it from running in the elections with its traditional party of reference, namely the Milli Gorus of Ecmeddin Elbatan, in 1996, quickly rebuilt the Islamist scene of Turkish politics.
The links between President Erdogan’s regime and the Ikhwan, as well as the whole “Brotherhood”, are still very close.
The Egyptian official sources of the oldest Islamist group speak of an AKP defined as “non-Islamist”, but certainly “Muslim” while, at least officially, the Turkish President Erdogan often refers to a Turkish Islam linked to the Sufi tradition of Shamshiddin al-Tabrizi and Jalahuddin Al-Rumi.
In all likelihood, however, this is a media operation ad usum delphini, namely for the inexperienced Westerners’ palates.
And to think that they were just the Italian Lodges of the Grand Orient operating in Alexandria and Thessaloniki to provide coverage to the Sufis of the Turkish and Ottoman military networks and then carry out the “Young Turks’ coup”.
A senior officer of the Turkish intelligence services, Irshad Hoza, was arrested in Egypt immediately after Al Sisi took power.
Moreover, again after the recent Egyptian coup, an Egyptian Revolutionary Council was created in Istanbul, consisting of 81 prominent fugitives all belonging to the Brotherhood.
Hence we can infer that it is the Ikhwan channel which is used by the political and military Turkish forces to support the Turkmen – and hence Uyghur – jihadist guerrilla warfare near Aleppo and throughout Syria.
This is certainly – but not only – to avoid “undermining” the most important point of the intelligence and military apparatus linking the Turkish State to the Syrian jihad.
However, there is another Turkish “humanitarian” organization – more pro-jihadist than the IHH, but usefully less known – called Imkander, which was founded in 2009 to help the widows and orphans of the Turkmen and jihadist fighters in the North Caucasus, now living in Turkey.
So far it has provided as many as 300 million Turkish lira (nearly 100 million US dollars) to the Jabal Turkmen (and hence to the Uyghurs often fighting with them), in addition to four convoys of “humanitarian” (and military) aid between December and January last.
In Febrary 2014 the Imkander leader, Murat Ozer, attended the funeral of the Head of the Chechen jihad, Seifullah Al-Shishani (i.e. Ruslan Machalikashvili) who, after the end of the Islamic War in the Russian Caucasus, had affiliated with the Al Nusra Jabhat in Syria.
Among the other Turkish NGOs, it supports the Turkmen-Uyghur front known as the “Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front” (IBAC), a structure already reported as a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 1992.
Before operating in Syria and supporting the “Turkmen” Uyghurs, it had carried out terrorist attacks against some Alawite associations which had always been present on the Turkish territory and especially in Anatolia.
The supporters of the pro-Turkish and Uyghur jihad also include the now notorious “Grey Wolves” (also known as “Ulku Ocaklari”, the Idealist Hearts) that sent a series of 35 aid convoys to the Turkmen-Uighur jihadists – a column of trucks that two months ago was heading for Northern Syria.
The current leader of the “Grey Wolves”, Selami Aynur, was even killed in Aleppo by the forces of Bashar el Assad, while operating with his Turkmen-Uyghur battalion in March 2014.
A Turkish “nationalist”, Alparslan Celik, again operating within the Turkmen jihad, was the man who materially killed the Russian pilot of the Sukhoi 24M aircraft and the helicopter pilots who had promptly arrived to “exfiltrate” him.
However, the foreign financing of the Turkmen-Uyghur jihad has still a strong point in Germany.
Moreover, two months ago, President Erdogan announced that “Turkey would protect all Muslims in the Balkans”.
It is a clear reference to the role that the Turkish leader assigns to the Turkish and Turkmen community in Germany, which is intended to serve as a base, fundraising, support, coverage and recruitment for the strategic link between the Balkans’ jihad, which will clearly break out very soon, and the war in Syria, the real axis of the Panturanic, Sunni and nationalist Turkish development from Anatolia to the Chinese borders.
In President Erdogan’s mind, the Balkans will be an impregnable backline, with the Turkish-Uyghur Germany acting as a primary axis, while the Turkish break-through operations in Syria, designed to unite the Sunni and the Turkmen-Uyghur worlds, will be the “centre of gravity” of this new war which is being prepared.
Germany is home to over 3 million Turks, 2.5 million of whom have the German citizenship: more than 75% of this population has nationalist-Islamist attitudes.
80% of the Turks in Germany live on social benefits and only 20% have a regular job.
No one knows how many Uyghurs live in Germany, also thanks to their historic leader, Dolkun Isa, who is now a German citizen. Probably they now total over 25,000 and are all politically active.
In Northern Syria, the Uyghurs go to live in the villages left by those who we, in the West, would call “migrants”, especially in Jisr-Al-Shugur and Zanbaq, two small towns around Aleppo.
Hence demography is changed when you cannot militarily operate otherwise.
What the Uyghurs shall do around Aleppo is above all the “dirty work” of killing “Russian spies”.
Reverting to the EU and its vain and virtually non-existent foreign policy, Turkey still believes in the usefulness of Turks in Germany, with a view to rebuilding the myth and dream of the Ottoman Empire which, in its dual Islamist and nationalist connotation, unites and radicalizes both the so-called “secular” Turkish Islamists, regardless of their being linked to the Brotherhood or to its most recent jihadist offspring.
We are faced once again with the old historical myth of Kaiser Wilhelm who, with his diplomat/secret agent Max von Oppenheim, the alter ego and foe of Lawrence of Arabia, planned and arranged the global jihad in order to destabilize the whole British Empire and encircle Europe, so as to later use the alliance between Germany and the “radical” Islam as a new German axis for expanding to the whole East Asia, up to China.
It is the so-called Yellow Peril – in the old German imperial sense.
Today, there has even been the case of a Turkish boy, aged 13, born in Munich, who was caught mid-April on the Turkish-Syrian border while he was trying to reach ISIS.
Traditionally, in the past, the Uyghurs from Xinjiang even fought with an autonomous “brigade” to support the Taliban in Afghanistan and with Al Qaeda, especially in Pakistan’s “Tribal Areas”.
Hitting a Chinese friend, namely Pakistan, so as to indirectly hit those that, with their ethnicist mentality, the Uyghurs dismiss as the “the Han usurpers”.
Nevertheless, according to the data processed from “open sources”, currently the Uyghur fighters in Syria – equally divided between the “Turkmen” and the Al-Nusra Front linked to the Turkestan Islamic Party – are approximately 7,000 and are increasing while the other parts of the Syrian front are being inexorably closed to the arrival of jihadists from the West and the South-East.
From a geographical and strategic viewpoint, it is an obvious consequence of the different deployment of the forces involved in the Syrian proxy war.
Other “open” sources speak of “hundreds” or even “several thousand” Uyghurs coming from Xinjiang to Syria, but these figures must be still confirmed.
Furthermore, it is increasingly proven that the Uyghurs use the Turkish diplomatic missions in Southeast Asia for the transition towards the Syrian jihad so as to avoid the most easily traceable crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan and then Syria.
Obviously there is also a large, and often rich, Uyghur diaspora in Istanbul, counting at least 20,000 active elements and arranged between the Grey Wolves’ nationalism and the AKP.
A series of Uyghur associations which raise funds and materially support the Chinese jihadists operating in Syria, both those of the Al-Nusra Front and the other ones operating directly in the Turkmen jihad around Idlib and Aleppo.
When he was mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan dedicated a monument and a park to Isa Yusuf Alptekin, the old leader of the Islamist insurgency in Xinjiang in the mid-1930s.
This is probably the reason why, besides passing a law allowing the military operations of the People’s Liberation Army abroad, China is arranging its autonomous military base in Djibouti, in addition to having ordered recent exercises of its Armed Forces “in desert areas” and in “unfamiliar areas”.
The Uyghurs arrive in Syria up to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, often with their families.
The cost of the journey towards the jihad is very high, approximately over 35,000 US dollars for each family “sending” – money which is paid by the Turkish NGO networks, with their own funds, collected from the German Turks by means of mosque offerings, or sent by the various Turkish Islamist groups to their emissaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan and especially Chechnya.
Obviously it is hard to make precise calculations but, apart from the small share of Chinese “rich” jihadists, allegedly these funds amount to 4.5 million US dollars per year.
However, the point of reference for the Uyghur jihad arriving in Syria remains particularly the Al-Nusra Front, which, in this phase of the Syrian war, operates especially in the Idlib area.
The Turkmen are supported directly by Turkey and the Uyghurs joining the ranks of that kind of jihad blend in the operational lines of that group.
Certainly – as it often happens – this does not prevent an exchange of jihadists between a group and the other, especially when there are significant losses.
Nevertheless this situation, brought beyond tolerable limits, could enable China – “if Assad wants it” (as stated in September 2015) – to enter directly with its troops into the large global proxy war, which is currently taking place in Syria.
On the one hand, China would dangerously break its useful isolation but, on the other hand, it would allow to secure the Chinese living space of East Turkestan which, from Xinjiang reaches up to Northern China’s vital strategic areas that are decisive for its nuclear missile defence and for its e-intelligence and cyber actions.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France