Violent Islamist Movements Rejoice in Ukraine's 'Crusader War'

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The major violent Islamist movements, with the exception of the Taliban, welcome the Russian offensive in Ukraine and the casualties it causes, while calling on their followers to depart from a “war between crusaders”.

When global media attention is focused on Ukraine, as two years ago in the covid-19 epidemic, jihadist groups develop a narrative against the two protagonists of the conflict, seen as hostile to Islam.

In an editorial published in early March in its magazine Al Naba, the Islamic State (IS) group evokes “a punishment” imposed on “Christian infidels”, guilty of “exporting” their struggles to Muslim countries.

Al Qaeda, whose communication is slower, has not yet reacted. But Abu Mohamad Al Maqdisi, an esteemed theologian of the group, tweeted his joy that the war continues. “As you are glad to destroy Muslim countries,” he said, referring to Westerners.

“Have the oppressors annihilate each other (...) for the benefit of Islam,” Abu al-Fatah al-Farghali, a religious man linked to the former branch of Al Qaeda in Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, urged on social media.

In this context of widespread satisfaction, only the Taliban are out of tune. A day after the Russian invasion, they expressed in a statement their “concern” about the “real possibilities of civilian casualties”.

In accordance with their “policy of neutrality in foreign affairs”, the former rebels, who left tens of thousands dead in Afghanistan in 20 years of insurrection, called Kiev and Moscow for “moderation” and “dialogue”.

- "Discurso maleable" -

The Taliban, at the helm of Afghanistan again, want to become an “international partner,” says Laurence Bindner of JOS Project, an online extremist propaganda analysis platform.

“They always have very political, more measured positions, precisely because they want (...) not to be considered as a vulgar insurrectional group,” he adds.

The other jihadist movements have a “discourse that is malleable enough to adopt it to the big news,” says the analyst.

Bindner cites, for example, the “divine punishment” evoked by IS during the covid-19 pandemic or the “rejection of both sides”, which it used in the last Israeli-Palestinian crisis, since “Palestinians are engaged in a nationalist and not religious struggle.”

No jihadist group chooses sides between Russia and Ukraine. Both are “unfaithful states” in their world governed by a strict distinction “between Muslims and non-Muslims,” says Aymenn Al-Tamimi, of George Washington University.

- To die for the “infidels” -

Everyone also refuses to mobilize their fighters to prevent “Muslims from dying as infidels, something unacceptable” in their logic, adds this researcher.

Chechen reinforcements, usually Muslim and fighting on the side of Russia, are considered “apostates”.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham movement, decimated by the Moscow bombings in Syria, celebrated the “Russian casualties”, although “they do not support Ukraine as a state,” says Al-Tamimi.

The Ukrainian army did indeed support US forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. Ukraine was also part of the Washington-led international coalition against IS.

The war in Ukraine also allows the Islamic State to divert international attention and “continue to carry out its operations, even increase them”, according to Damien Ferré, founder of the Jihad Analytics agency that analyzes jihad and cyberspace.

On 4 March, the day after the publication of its editorial on the war in Ukraine, ISIS claimed a suicide attack in Pakistan, which killed 64 Muslims in a Shia mosque, a recurring target of the Sunni group.