Global Islamism Monitor No. 114

Related Categories: Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues; Islamic Extremism; Terrorism; Warfare; Afghanistan; Middle East; Saudi Arabia

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement is now weathering domestic turbulence associated with its draconian domestic policies. Of late, the group's restrictive approach to poppy cultivation, in particular, has led to significant protests (see Global Islamism Monitor no. 113) and provided a critical opening for the Taliban's own Islamist opposition. In early May, a bombing in the country's northeastern Badakhshan province killed and wounded 12 police officers involved in the Taliban's anti-poppy crop campaign. The Islamic State's local franchise, the Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, has taken responsibility for the blast. (Associated Press, May 9, 2024)

Meanwhile, the domestic political environment in Afghanistan that is being maintained by the Taliban has the potential to pose a very real threat to the West, according to a leading resistance leader. Ahmad Masood, the son of legendary Afghan resistance chief Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated by al-Qaeda on the eve of the September 11th attacks, has assumed the leadership of anti-Taliban forces, now unified under the banner of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, since the Taliban's return to power in Kabul in August of 2021. In a recent interview with London's Daily Mail newspaper, he argued that Western inattention is allowing the Taliban to flourish – and setting the stage for Afghanistan to again emerge as a serious threat to the U.S. and Europe. "The political situation is helping the Taliban massively," Massoud argues. "From Ukraine to the war on Gaza and, and many other things happening around the globe," there is now "a numbness in the West. They are forgetting about what's happening in Afghanistan."

The consequences could be profound. "If the world doesn't pay attention," he notes, Afghanistan can once again "be a breeding ground for terrorism." Indeed, this is already taking place, with extremist elements both "expanding" and "recruiting," Massoud says. The scope of the problem is massive, and involves "not just the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Daesh (The Islamic State) but... many other groups" as well, Massoud asserts. And, as a result, "an attack on U.S. or European soil is very much possible now. It is not about a matter of if, it's a matter of when." (Daily Mail, April 29, 2024)

In his efforts to consolidate control over the Kingdom and steer it onto a more inclusive, modern path, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has faced no shortage of opposition. Among the most significant has been the domestic charge led by the Sahwa, or Awakening, movement - a group of hardline clerics who champion a return to strict interpretation of the country's traditional Wahhabi creed. In response, the Saudi government has moved decisively against the Sahwa, imprisoning and sidelining vocal members at variance with its modernized approach to foreign and religious affairs.

One of them is Safar Al-Hawali, who has been detained without trial since 2018 for his criticism of the House of Saud and its policies. Al-Hawali, however, is more than a mere political opponent; he is also a radical ideologue who has served as an inspiration for extremists like Osama bin Laden.

Now, Al-Hawali's case has been taken up by the United Nations. The UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities recently issued a report advocating for Al-Hawali's release, based upon his current, diminished capacity. Now 70, Al-Hawali has suffered multiple strokes which have left him unable to communicate clearly - and thereby, the Committee argues, make his ability to radicalize others negligible. "He has chronic apraxia of speech, which precludes him from moving his facial muscles to speak and be understood," the committee notes. "He is unable to move around alone and has a broken pelvis and renal failure that require constant medical care." All of that, in turn, makes him a diminished threat to the Kingdom, the Committee argues. It's unclear, however, if authorities in Riyadh agree. (Associated Press, May 15, 2024)