Friday, August 14, 2015

ISIS Said Shifting Its Recruiting Efforts from Arab World to Caucasus and Central Asia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 14 – The Islamic State is shifting its primary recruiting efforts away from the Arab world to the Caucasus, Central Asia and Indonesia, regions where the number of young Muslims is growing and the local situations are in its view more favorable to its message, according to a new report by Egypt’s Administration for Religious Regulations.

            Such recruits would not necessarily be used in their own countries at least initially but rather deployed where ISIS is currently fighting or where it hopes to expand its activities, including in Egypt, the report continues, the news agency reports (

            In the words of the Egyptian report, “after the beginning of the ideological and armed struggle with ISIS,” the Arab countries clamped down hard on its recruitment efforts. As a result, ISIS leader decided that it would be “quite easy to recruit supporters” in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Indonesia “because Muslims in these regions are numerous, not acquainted with the extremist ideology of the group, and have been inclined to trust Arab proselytizers.”

            The report continued that “the goal of ISIS is not the establishment in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Indonesia of ‘a caliphate’ but securing a flow of new recruits into its ranks.” For the time being, it stressed, ISIS will concentrate its efforts at expansion precisely in the Middle East.

            Because it is so difficult to know what is going on among ISIS decision makers, this report must be treated with caution: It remains uncertain how much ISIS may be making a virtue of necessity, declaring it has a policy when in fact it is simply labelling what is happening – the influx of Muslims from outside the Arab world – as the result of its efforts.

            But three comments are in order:

            First, the report is entirely plausible.  The share of Arabs among the world’s Muslims is declining, and it is entirely natural that ISIS and groups like it would look beyond the Arab world, especially to Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus who because of Soviet anti-religious policies know little about the content of their faith and thus are more available for mobilization by outsiders than are Muslims who have greater knowledge about it.

            Second, it is certainly possible that Moscow media are playing this up not only to justify more repression but to win support from the West. If the Russian government can present itself as a target of ISIS actions, many in the West will be more prepared to accept Russian arguments that the West must look beyond Ukraine and cooperate with Russia against ISIS.

                And third, whatever Russian intentions are in this regard, the recruitment of Muslims from Central Asia and the Caucasus in particular and the Muslim world beyond the Arab one more generally highlight a longer term security problem. While ISIS may use these people for its own ends now, at least some of them will return home and spread its activities there in the future.

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