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The Islamic State’s South Asian Branches are Spearheading an Anti-China Campaign

The Islamic State’s South Asian Branches are Spearheading an Anti-China Campaign
8th January 2024 Lucas Webber
In Insights


China’s domestic policy in Xinjiang and its expanding international influence — particularly its growing footprint in the Muslim world — has drawn the ire of the Islamic State (IS) since its official formation in 2014. The hub of the Islamic State’s anti-China propaganda production was initially located in Iraq and Syria, but with the fall of Baghuz and the elimination of the physical caliphate in 2019, the South Asian branches, namely IS Khurasan (ISKP), IS Hind (ISHP), and IS Pakistan (ISPP), later took the reins. They began increasing the frequency of publication of such print, audio, and video content on Telegram, Rocket.Chat,, and archival websites, including IS’s I’lam Foundation, and developing existing and new narratives with greater nuance and historiography. The regional ecosystem and web of pro-IS media elements has markedly increased its focus on Beijing, in line with branch-designated propaganda entities, while intensifying threats toward and criticism of China. This heightened level of attention is largely due to ISKP, ISHP, and ISPP seizing the opportunity to lead the anti-China cause while motivated by rising hostility due to China’s Xinjiang policy and Beijing’s expanded footprint in South and Central Asia. Further, ISKP carried through on its words with an attack on a Kabul hotel in December 2022, stating the purpose was to target Chinese nationals. Then, on 11 January, an IS suicide bomber targeting a Chinese delegation detonated outside of the Taliban’s foreign ministry building. This Insight will trace how ISKP has surpassed IS-Central in Iraq and Syria to become the Islamic State’s premier branch in anti-China propaganda and kinetic warfare.

A Brief History of Islamic State’s Anti-China Rhetoric and Its Shift East
Immediately after the announcement of the caliphate, in June 2014, the group’s Al-Furqan Media Foundation published caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi condemned “the extreme torture and degradation of Muslims in East Turkistan” and scorned China for “preventing” the country’s Islamic population in Xinjiang “from receiving their most basic rights.” In 2009, IS’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, released a 39-minute martyrdom video in solidarity with China’s Uyghur Muslims, explicitly threatening Beijing and calling for attacks on China. Yet, it was not until IS’s official defection from Al-Qaeda and the 2014 establishment of the caliphate that the organisation began to place any real focus on China.

In addition, IS touched upon the issues in the flagship Dabiq magazine series and various other productions. IS even put out detailed content featuring Uyghur fighters and spotlighting China’s brutality in ‘East Turkistan’. This included an October 2014 video (Fig. 1) praising a Chinese fighter before he conducted a suicide bombing operation, one in July 2015 published by Al-Hayat Media Center showing an elderly cleric from Xinjiang encouraging supporters to make hijrah and kill “Chinese infidels”, a Mandarin language nasheed released weeks later urging potential members to “wake up” and “take up weapons to fight” the Chinese government. On New Year 2016, IS hackers took over the prestigious Tsinghua University and uploaded a photo and audio message promoting jihad. In February 2017, IS’s Al-Furat Media released a video in which Uyghur militants threatened China, saying the “soldiers of the caliphate” would “shed blood like rivers and avenge the oppressed.”

Fig. 1: Video praising the 2014 Uyghur suicide bomber

China began to receive less attention as IS’s caliphate was rolled back and lost in 2019. However, that same year, the group’s weekly al-Naba newsletter featured an editorial on Beijing’s rising influence and nefarious activities in the Muslim world, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). IS said Beijing is using “the method of investment” to “strengthen its ties with tyrannical governments.” The piece then purports that Muslims must prepare for a long-term conflict with China and “to wage war against the idolators of China everywhere.”

A subsequent 2021 Al-Naba article postulated that “Chinese companies are ambitious to find for themselves a foothold” in Mozambique’s “huge reserves of different natural resources,” and in August 2020, it was reported that IS-linked insurgents targeted Chinese-owned sawmills in the country. IS briefly capitalised on the coronavirus outbreak, celebrating in al-Naba the “new virus” that “spreads death and terror in China”, while IS supporting outlets like Quraysh Media wrote, “China: coronavirus … A promise is a debt we must not forget.” From this point on, the centre of gravity for anti-China propaganda shifted gradually, then rapidly, and ultimately almost exclusively to Islamic State branches in South and Central Asia.

South and Central Asia Becomes Hub of IS’s Anti-China Propaganda
Though the Islamic State’s Khurasan — and, to a lesser extent, its Hind and Pakistan Provinces — ramped up the anti-China rhetoric in 2021, ISKP had been occasionally commenting on related topics since 2015. In July of that year, Hafiz Saeed Khan, leader of ISKP at the time, pledged in a statement that his men “will fight” and “liberate” “East Turkistan [Xinjiang] from the hegemony of disbelievers.” He was later interviewed in the January 2016 issue of Dabiq magazine, where he lamented the “atheist Chinese” for occupying Xinjiang.

The Islamic State acted upon its threats in May 2017 when it kidnapped and killed two Chinese nationals in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province. Subsequently, the pro-IS Al-Battar Media Foundation, which is now partnered with ISKP’s Al-Azaim, posted an image threatening “the silk road project” and “declared war on China in direct backing and support for Uyghur Muslims.”

Despite this, it wasn’t until the run-up to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 that IS media elements in the region began to focus on China in a sustained and intensifying way. The shift was purposed both to become the primary anti-China and pro-Uyghur militant force in the region as well as to set the groundwork for critical narratives about amiable Taliban-China relations. During this period, the surge in anti-China rhetoric was driven by an amalgamation of independent but aligned actors in the South Asian pro-IS communications ecosystem.

This ultimately resulted in the centre of gravity for such activity definitively shifting east to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia, where it remains today. This is partly due to such actors existing closer to China and having greater local and regional familiarity with the impact of Beijing’s actions in the region, such as its Xinjiang policy and expanded influence in South and Central Asia.

In July 2020, the ISHP-linked Voice of Hind online print magazine included a detailed section on Chinese policy in Xinjiang and promised the Uyghurs that the Islamic State has not forgotten about them, vowing to avenge the state’s wrongdoings. A later issue reminded readers of the “obligation of fighting the disbelievers”, specifically naming China. Other texts from the series frame China as imperialist and say the “Chinese atheists” are “the Gods” controlling the Pakistani government. The September 2021 issue excoriated the “murtad Taliban” for being “[licking] the boots of … China”.

The early narratives pushed out by mostly pro-ISKP outlets — such as Khalid Media, Al Millat Media, and Asawirti Media — were largely part of an information warfare effort to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban by emphasising its pursuit of cordial relations with China, given Beijing’s oppressive policies against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. IS Central spread and reinforced these regional propaganda actors in its Al-Naba newsletter, impugning the Taliban for lounging in luxurious hotels in Qatar and meeting with Chinese, Russian, and Iranian diplomats. In addition, these propaganda networks even accused the Taliban of being active proxies of Beijing.

Yet, over time, the scattered rising rhetorical attacks took on a more concentrated form as Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production emerged as ISKP’s primary in-house media wing and the Islamic State Hind Province-linked Voice of Hind magazine was introduced and helped accelerate the South Asian IS movement’s expanded scope of regionalisation and internationalisation. After the capture of Kabul, pro-ISKP, ISHP, and ISPP groups continued the anti-China attacks into the fall with the publication of online books, videos, and images posted on Telegram, archival websites, and elsewhere that highlight the Taliban’s dealings with Beijing and its refusal to take action to help Uyghur Muslims.

These narratives were supercharged when a Chinese national and ISKP militant going by ‘Muhammad al-Uyghuri’ conducted a suicide bombing against Hazara worshippers at a mosque in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing over 40 people and injuring more than 140 others. Although the target was not Chinese, the ethno-religious identity of the perpetrator was leveraged and weaponised against Beijing. IS Central’s claim of responsibility for the operation purported that “the Taliban has pledged to expel and oust [Uyghurs] at [the] request of … China and its anti-Muslim policies there.” Voice of Hind chimed in, dubbing al-Uyghuri “a knight of Allah from China” and scorned the Taliban doing Beijing’s bidding in guarding Buddhist statues.

Al-Azaim began with a very limited scope, mostly confined to religious issues, but has now become a multifaceted and robust outlet covering religious, political, social, and military issues at the regional and global levels, putting out magazines, booklets, videos, and posters online in several languages such as Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, English, Tajik, Uzbek, and more on Telegram, Rocket.Chat, and archival websites, criticising China in each of these formats. ISKP’s branch media wing was influenced by the globalised ethos of ISHP’s Voice of Hind magazine series while also pursuing its own independent strategy of regionalisation and internationalisation. This was tied into a militant doctrine of targeting foreign interests, including an assault explicitly targeting Chinese nationals in a Kabul hotel and a suicide attack aimed at a Chinese delegation of the Taliban’s foreign ministry.

ISKP’s central media apparatus picked up steam in early 2022 with an English language booklet that criticised the Taliban’s soft stance on China while it rolled out new narratives such as highlighting Kabul’s acceptance of aid from Beijing and increasingly labelling Pakistan’s government a slave to the PRC. The group published its most detailed criticism of China in September of last year in an article titled ‘China’s Daydream of Imperialism wherein it purported that Beijing is becoming more powerful with the “ambition of conquering the world and establishing their own power sphere” and is challenging US hegemony. In it, ISKP predicted that China would not “be able to protect themselves from the sharp knives of the Khilafah soldiers.” A few days later, an Uzbek-language pro-ISKP propaganda outlet on Telegram encouraged attacks on Chinese pipelines running through Central Asia.

This campaign escalated again in December 2022 when two ISKP militants conducted an attack on a Kabul hotel frequented by Chinese nationals. IS’s central media apparatus boosted the operation, bragging that its fighters “sought fastidiously to put its threats towards China into action”. Notably, the editorial even recognised the geographical shift east, saying “soldiers threatened China years ago from Syria, and today they put their threats into actions [sic] in Khorasan.”

On January 15 2023, ISKP sought to ride the momentum of the Kabul hotel attack, publishing an article in Voice of Khurasan magazine scorning the “Communist Chinese imperialists” for seeking to exploit Afghanistan’s resources such as lithium, gold, and copper (Fig. 2). The piece claims that there is a conspiracy led by China to subjugate the country and loot its wealth. ISKP derided the Taliban for dealing with China when “millions of our brothers and sisters are imprisoned, tortured and killed in East Turkestan.”

Fig. 2: Voice of Khurasan magazine anti-China article

This was followed up on in a subsequent issue the next month that included an article solely focused on the history of the Uyghur plight, surpassing any previous piece in detail and nuance. Days later, ISKP added a new layer to their propaganda by making appeals to the Uyghur fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) to defect to the Islamic State since the Taliban is preventing them from attacking China. Furthermore, IS-Pakistan and IS-Hind have again started publishing attacks on China this year.

In late November and early December 2023, ISKP made a reinvigorated effort to emphasise the Uyghur issue by releasing a 39-page booklet and a video through its Al-Azaim Foundation for Media Production. The content was a highly bellicose and complete synthesis of previous narratives into a more coherent and organised form. However, one notable emergent theme was the distinction made between China’s Uyghur and Hui Muslim populations – with ISKP accusing the latter of buying into the communist government’s agenda and thus being rewarded.


The Islamic State’s South Asian branches are pushing to delegitimise the Taliban and Pakistan as selling out to China as it conducts a harsh crackdown on Uyghur Muslims. China is portrayed as a colonial or imperial power that is exploiting and expanding its influence in Muslim countries throughout Asia and beyond. ISKP’s recent online print publication declared that the Kabul hotel and foreign ministry attacks were just the beginning and that the group will drastically escalate its war against China as revenge for Beijing’s harsh crackdown on Uyghur Muslims. Given this and the increased chatter about China in recent weeks, it is likely that ISKP or other IS branches in the area will continue to target Chinese nationals and interests.

Since ISKP primarily uses Telegram, Rocket.Chat, and sites like to post propaganda materials; administrators of these platforms should work closely with governments, organisations, and experts to identify the channels and accounts that upload this content for faster removal. Governments and collaborative entities like Europol should also focus on Islamic State initiatives like the pro-IS umbrella network Fursan al-Tarjuma, which publishes materials translated into over 17 languages and the I’Lam Foundation archival project, which hosts massive amounts of materials in many languages.

Lucas Webber is a researcher focused on geopolitics and violent non-state actors. He is cofounder and editor at He has written for Eurasianet, The Jamestown Foundation, The Diplomat, Hudson Institute, Nikkei Asia, CIMSEC, and elsewhere.