Al-Shabaab Attacks Chinese National in Kenya while Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan Criticizes Beijing
On March 11th, Islamist militants attacked a highway construction site near Majengo in Kenya’s Lamu County. The ambush killed five people, which reportedly included a Chinese national, and wounded multiple others. In the wake of the assault, the Al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabaab insurgent group claimed responsibility through their official Shahada News outlet.
Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’I hosted a meeting with delegates of the China-Kenya Trade Association four days after the attack to discuss security concerns about jihadist threats to key economic and infrastructure programs, particularly the operational risk facing commercial and construction projects along the Lamu-Ijara-Garissa road.
Such worries are well-founded as Al-Shabaab has been targeting Chinese interests in Kenya since at least January 2019 when they raided Chinese work facilities. This past January, the group struck again when their guerillas attacked a China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) operational site in the Omolo-Bodhei area proximate to the Lamu-Garissa highway, detonating explosives and torching eight of the firm’s vehicles. Just days before the incident, Al-Shabaab’s official Arabic-language Shahada News website published an article about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) activities in Kenya, accusing Beijing of pursuing a strategy of debt-trap diplomacy and mentioning China’s involvement in infrastructure projects such as the railway connecting to the port of Mombasa.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, too, Islamic State has featured anti-China propaganda as an opportunity to criticize their archenemy, the Taliban.
Recently, a video published by Al-Azaim Foundation, ISKP’s mouthpiece in the region, harshly lashed out against the Taliban and their relations with neighbouring countries, including China. The video features the October 2021 meeting between Taliban’s FM Amir Khan Muttaqi and Chinese FM Wang Yi, which ISKP has frequently highlighted as a symbol of the Taliban’s complicit role in the Chinese oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The production also features pictures of Chinese soldiers pointing guns towards what are presumably Uyghur civilians, while the speaker explicitly accuses the government of killing Chinese Muslims.
ISKP has developed narratives aimed at delegitimizing the Taliban as a jihadist movement, and part of this strategy targets the new Kabul government’s efforts to normalize ties with the international community.
Thus, the first ISKP video of 2022 continues the trend of criticizing the Taliban for conducting diplomacy with “un-Islamic” countries such as China. In a book published by Al-Azaim in late August 2021 in both Pashto and Urdu, the group accuses the Taliban of trading Islam for Chinese money in order to supposedly finance the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
ISKP has also addressed the issue of China and the Taliban in two recent releases appearing in English, thus broadening the intended audience of its propaganda campaign. In February, a book argued that the Taliban have betrayed Islam by siding with countries responsible for killing Muslims such as China, similar to ISKP magazine Voice of Khurasan reports in its debut issue.
As part of ISKP’s efforts to better spread its message to a broader array of ethnic groups, the branch also issued a book in the Uzbek language where it slanders the Taliban as “slaves of China” and other regional powers, echoing the group’s narratives that are found in several other of their texts.
As Singapore-based researcher Abdul Basit argues, ISKP’s strategy is also aimed at winning over the sympathies of the Turkistan Islamic Party’s (TIP) Uyghur militants, who were reportedly relocated from Badakhshan province upon Beijing’s insistence, reinforcing ISKP’s need to support oppressed Muslims in places such as Xinjiang, Kashmir, Myanmar, among others.