MW Weekly: Islamic State Attacks Russian Mercenaries in Mali; Pro-Wagner Group Channel Promotes Partisan Activity; Xi Announces SCO Counter-Terrorism Training Centre as IS Grows Hostile to China
Islamic State Kills Russian Wagner Group Mercenaries in Mali
Russia’s Wagner Group has been drawing global media attention for its involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, the state-linked mercenaries are simultaneously deployed in a number of other countries including Mali where they are increasingly engaging in combat with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State forces.
With the end of France’s formal mission in Mali, Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries seem to be shouldering a greater security role in the country. This has brought them into more regular contact with jihadist militants.
In a recent issue of the Islamic State’s al-Naba weekly newsletter, the group celebrates its killing of Wagner mercenaries as well as the growth of the IS movement in the Sahel and its expanded operational footprint now extending into Benin. Accordingly, Africa featured quite prominently in the latest audio statement by the Islamic State’s official spokesman Abu Umar al-Muhajir, wherein he boasted about the “African lions” and, particularly, their prison break operations.
Al-Qaeda has likewise emphasized the importance of Africa in its global jihad, and its JNIM branch has claimed a string of attacks against joint forces composed of Malian military personnel and Wagner Group fighters.
Though the claims coming from jihadist groups are difficult to verify, the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel combined with the deepening involvement of Wagner Group in Mali would seem to give some credence to the statements. In late July, the Islamic State released a video of their fighters destroying an Orlan-10 UAV operated by Wagner PMC in Mali’s Ménaka area.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) finds that 2022 is on a trajectory to be the deadliest year for conflict in Mali (as well as neighboring Burkina Faso) since the Sahel crisis began.
Wagner has come into contact with Islamic State militants on the African continent before. The mercenaries were hired by Mozambique’s government for a time to help stabilize the IS insurgency in the north. This partnership did not last and was ultimately a failure, with Wagner reportedly being unprepared for such intensity of conflict in the area, losing several men to IS ambushes before pulling out.
Prominent Pro-Wagner Group Telegram Channel Promotes Partisan Action in West
Separately, a Telegram channel associated with the Wagner Group shared a notable post from another pro-Russian channel this week. First seen by Militant Wire researchers on Reverse Side of the Medal, the post says that “Partisans are needed in Europe and in Ukraine to fight NATO forces.”
Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine—as it has been called by President Putin and Russian media—is now being framed by Moscow as a direct conflict between Russia and the transatlantic Alliance. The official line from Moscow and its state television channels is that every third soldier on the Ukrainian side of the recent Kharkiv offensive was from a NATO country, going so far as to claim Polish fighters outnumbered Ukrainians. On September 20, Putin made an announcement on the partial mobilization of the Russian Federation and similarly asserted that the Ukrainian military was under the command of the US-led West.
The original post urging partisan activity has been re-posted in its channel of origin, SMERSH_kgb, several times in the past week. It has appeared in Russian, English, German, and more recently in Polish. The channel is of course named for the famous WWII-era Soviet counterintelligence service.
Posts on SMERSH call for followers to disrupt the transfer of military equipment through Europe to Ukraine, often by simple means. “NATO troops use public roads to deliver equipment through Germany, through Poland to Ukraine! Blocking public roads that are used for the transfer of troops is possible…” It then goes on to list some methods of blocking roads that are easily achievable by small groups of people.
The post called on potential pro-Russian partisans to perform specific tasks including:
- to highlight the location of NATO personnel and equipment;
- to block the transfer of NATO personnel and equipment;
- for demonstrations and actions of the local population of Europe against the war with the Russian Federation;
- to solve other problems.
Perhaps the most noteworthy detail is that it concludes with the prompt, “To receive assignments, write to the duty officer,” and provides a separate Telegram account as a contact.
Elsewhere throughout the channel, there are posts celebrating citizen barricades and blockages of NATO equipment in European countries. On September 18 an anti-NATO demonstration in Moldova halted the transfer of equipment into Ukraine. About a dozen military vehicles, some of them wheeled infantry fighting vehicles, were stopped on the road by Moldovans chanting, “We don’t need NATO!” and “We are with Russia!”
Such scenes have played out elsewhere in Europe since the war began. In Greece—a country with close historic, religious, and cultural ties to Russia—a NATO warship of the Royal Canadian Navy was vandalized with red paint by the communist KKE party and their affiliates, KNE, just one month into the war. Shortly after that, Greek railroad workers were filmed throwing red paint at a train transporting military equipment through the country. Eight days later on April 10, dock workers in the Port of Piraeus halted another NATO convoy bound for Ukraine, spray painting slogans on military vehicles in red paint. Greek riot police clashed with leftists and students in the port city of Thessaloniki on April 26 as the latter tried to disrupt the transfer of NATO equipment to Ukraine via Alexandroupolis.
The SMERSH Telegram channel has celebrated similar direct action elsewhere in Europe, such as in Germany, Italy, and France.
Xi Announces Creation of SCO Counter-Terrorism Base as IS’s Anti-China Rhetoric Intensifies
In mid-September, the 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand. Leaders from China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met to discuss a range of regional and global issues. Various speeches and official statements mentioned the importance of security cooperation, counterterrorism, and, more specifically, threats emanating from Afghanistan.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged, “We should continue to carry out joint anti-terrorism exercises, crack down hard on terrorism, separatism and extremism, drug trafficking as well as cyber and transnational organized crimes”. Interestingly, he announced that “China is ready to train 2,000 law enforcement personnel for SCO member states in the next five years, and establish a China-SCO base for training counter-terrorism personnel, so as to enhance capacity-building for law enforcement of SCO member states.”
We should ensure that the SCO-Afghanistan contact group and the mechanism of coordination and cooperation among Afghanistan's neighbors continue to play their roles; and we should encourage Afghan authorities to establish a broadly-based and inclusive political structure and remove the ground that breeds terrorism.
This announcement comes as the Taliban struggle to provide security in Afghanistan, and as neighboring China increasingly becomes the subject of hostile rhetoric by Islamic State elements in South and Central Asia.
The latter trend was discernible in pro-IS Telegram channels during and in the wake of the SCO meeting. The discourse was replete with narratives about Beijing’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang and criticism of the Taliban for having cordial relations with a country that is repressing Muslims.
Following the meeting, on September 18, the Uzbek language pro-Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) media group Tawhid News published a series of posts about China’s harsh treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Tawhid News shared four infographics about China’s suppression of religious expression in Xinjiang including points about restrictions on the Uyghur language, increased surveillance, the banning of prayer, limits on public gatherings, and more.
As has been the trend, the pro-IS outfit criticized the Taliban’s relationship with Beijing and posted photos of diplomats from China and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) socializing. The Taliban is accused of being “traitors” selling out to the Chinese and thus humiliating Muslims.
Such criticisms are becoming more common, and the “traitor” narrative was again purveyed by an adjacent propaganda group on September 22.
Conflict Photos of the Week