The emir of the Turkistan Islamic Party, who served on al Qaeda’s executive leadership council and who was thought to have been killed in a US drone strike in 2010, is believed to have re-emerged to lead the group after recovering from his injuries. If confirmed, Abdul Haq al Turkistani has been leading the group since the spring of 2014 without the knowledge of US intelligence services.
Abdul Haq appeared in a video that was released on June 5 by Islam Awazi, the official propaganda arm of the Turkistan Islamic Party. The video praised an attack “in Zawa township of Hotan prefecture in China’s Xinjiang region,” according to the SITE Intelligence group. The video was translated from Uighir to Turkish by the Turkistan Islamic Bulletin News Agency, which claimed that the jihadist speaking in the video is indeed Abdul Haq al Turkistani.
The Turkistan Islamic Bulletin News Agency said that Abdul Haq was “heavily injured in 2010” and was “unable to serve [as leader] until 2014,” according to SITE.
The relationship between the Turkistan Islamic Party and the Turkistan Islamic Bulletin News Agency is unclear, Adam Raisman from the SITE Intelligence Group told The Long War Journal. The Turkistan Islamic Bulletin News Agency publishes “a lot of material from TIP and reports on news as it relates to Muslims and jihad in Xinjiang and Syria and elsewhere in the Islamic world,” Raisman said.
The Long War Journal cannot independently confirm that Abdul Haq is alive and now leading the Turkistan Islamic Party. However, based on the timing of the succession, deaths of the group’s leaders, and propaganda released by the Turkistan Islamic Party, the claim from the Turkistan Islamic Bulletin News Agency that Abdul Haq was wounded in 2010 and re-emerged in 2014 does appear to be credible.
The reemergent Abdul Haq appears to have issued at least one public statement since the spring of 2014 without intelligence services picking up on it. In May 2014, Islam Awazi released a video that “claimed credit for the April 30, 2014, suicide bombings at a railway station in Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang region, and showed in a video the construction of a briefcase bomb used in the attack,” according to SITE. A person speaking in the May 2014 video (he is not identified) is the same person identified as Abdul Haq by the Turkistan Islamic Bulletin News Agency.
Another video, released in March 2014, identifies the leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party as “Abdul Haq Mansour” and uses an image of him, however his face is blurred.
If Abdul Haq is indeed alive and leading the Turkistan Islamic Party, he has been doing so for more than a year without the knowledge of US intelligence officials. Additionally, the fact that he is alive and not dead, as thought by US and other foreign intelligence services, demonstrates just how difficult it is to confirm the deaths of senior leaders and operatives who are targeted by air in areas under enemy control.
A member of al Qaeda’s shura
Abdul Haq, who is also known as Maimaitiming Maimaiti, became the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party in late 2003 after Hassan Mahsum, the group’s previous leader, was killed during clashes with Pakistani troops at an al Qaeda training camp in South Waziristan on Oct. 2, 2003.
Al Qaeda appointed Abdul Haq to its Shura Majlis, or executive leadership council, in 2005, according to the US Treasury Department, which designated him as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in April 2009. The United Nations also designated him as a terrorist leader.
Abdul Haq was considered influential enough in al Qaeda’s leadership circles that he was dispatched to mediate between rival Taliban groups as well as to represent the Shura Majlis in important military matters. In June 2009, he was spotted in Pakistan’s tribal areas attending an important meeting with Baitullah Mehsud, then Pakistan’s overall Taliban commander. Abdul Haq and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to discuss the Pakistani military’s operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network; and Abu Yahya al Libi, who at the time was a senior al Qaeda ideologue and propagandist and later became al Qaeda’s general manager before he was killed by the US in a drone strike.
The Treasury Department said Abdul Haq has sent operatives abroad to raise funds for attacks against Chinese interests both at home and abroad. He also was involved with recruiting, propaganda efforts, and the planning and execution of terror attacks. In early 2008, Haq openly threatened to conduct attacks at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
In August 2009, he threatened to attack Chinese embassies worldwide as well as targets within the country.
Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Abul Haq ran a training camp for his recruits at al Qaeda’s camp in Tora Bora in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. [See LWJ report, “The Uighurs in their own words”.]
He later reestablished camps for the Turkistan Islamic Party in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. The Chinese government has pressured Pakistan to dismantle the camps.
The Turkistan Islamic Party remains loyal to al Qaeda and has expanded its reach beyond China and Central and South Asia, and into Syria. The Turkistan Islamic Party’s branch in Syria claims to have more than 1,000 fighters, and the group played a major role in the jihadist coalition, which included al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, that took control of Jisr al Shughur in Idlib province this spring. [seeLWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party had significant role in recent Idlib offensive.]
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.