The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), an ethnic Uighur jihadist group closely allied to al Qaeda, has allegedly operated in Syria since 2012. Two years later, the TIP began advertising its role in suicide bombings in support of al Qaeda’s, or other rebel operations. These suicide operations detail the size and scope of its role in Syria, as well as shed light on the group’s larger role within al Qaeda’s international network.
The shift in advertising these bombings largely corresponds with an increased social media presence the group, which also began in 2014, but the group has highlighted its suicide operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for years. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the TIP is heavily integrated within both al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
The majority of the TIP’s suicide operations in Syria have taken place in Idlib Province, while others have been conducted in Aleppo and Hama. According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, the TIP has touted at least 13 suicide operations inside Syria since May 2014.
These operations have been in support of offensives or other battles led by al Qaeda and its allies in Syria. It has conducted these operations in each province it operates in except for the northwestern Latakia Province.
Additionally, the TIP is known to operate several training camps in Syria. One camp, which trains children, appears to be located in a captured Syrian villa somewhere in Idlib. Other camps have been shown to include children, as well. Another other camp is more traditional, albeit rudimentary compared to other camps.
The Turkistan Islamic Party also operates in China as well as Central and South Asia and is believed to have scores of fighters and its leadership located throughout Pakistan’s tribal areas and Afghanistan. The TIP is largely made up of ethnic Uighurs and fights with the aim of creating an Islamic state in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Its leaders and fighters have been killed by Coalition forces in Afghanistan and by US drone strikes in Pakistan.
Several of TIP’s senior leaders have also been appointed to top positions in al Qaeda’s network in Pakistan. For example, Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the current leader of the TIP, was appointed to al Qaeda’s top Shura council in 2005. Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, a former TIP emir, was also appointed by al Qaeda to lead its forces in Pakistan’s tribal provinces in 2010. [See LWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party leader thought killed in US drone strike.]
The jihadist group further confirms its place within al Qaeda’s international network by its suicide bombings inside Syria.
The following is a summary of each known suicide bomber advertised by the TIP in Syria. Others may exist, but have not been shown in propaganda releases by the group.
One of, if not the first suicide bomber the TIP advertised was a fighter named Dadullah Turkistani. Dadullah was first shown in Jabhat al Nusrah (now the bulk of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham) propaganda in May 2014. He detonated in a coordinated assault in Idlib Province alongside an American, Abu Hurayra al Amriki. (See FDD Long War Journal report, American took part in suicide bombings, Al Nusrah Front sharia official says.)
Dadullah can be seen on the far left from this Nusrah propaganda photo:
Shortly thereafter, the TIP advertised another suicide bomber that had been used in a joint operation with Nusrah in Idlib. The exact date and location is unknown, but the fighter was identified as Abdulvaris Turkistani.
The most prominent example of the TIP’s integration is with the capture of the town of Jisr al Shughur in Idlib in 2015. The jihadist group took on a significant role in the battle and acted as shock troops for the operation. Dozens of its fighters were killed, including its military leader. During the fighting, the TIP used at least five suicide bombers to capture the city. Social media accounts linked to the group said more were used at the time, however, the group has only shown five so far.
Two of the bombers detonated themselves near the national hospital in Jisr al Shughur, while the other three are reported to have detonated elsewhere in the city.
Suicide bombers used in Jisr al Shughur:
In Hama, at least three TIP suicide bombers have been used in support of al Qaeda-led operations in the northern part of the province. In January 2016, the jihadist group detailed a SVBIED (suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) used on regime forces somewhere in the Al Ghab Plain of northern Hama.
A few months later, another bomber was highlighted on the group’s social media accounts. This bomber, identified as Ibn Hussein al Turkistani, detonated himself in support of an operation on al Khakoura also in the Al Ghab Plain.
North of the city of Hama, another TIP bomber was recently advertised by the group on social media. The bomber was used as part of a renewed offensive on northern Hama led by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS). The fighter appeared in propaganda photos released by both the TIP and HTS, further highlighting the TIP’s integration.
The bomber as shown in the HTS release:
Last October before the fall of the city, al Qaeda and its allies launched a large scale offensive intended to break the siege of Aleppo. Several suicide bombers were used in the offensive, including three from the TIP. All three were directed at regime forces near the 1070 apartment project, which saw heavy fighting during the offensive.
Two of the bombers were Turkish, while the third was an ethnic Uighur. So far, the two Turkish fighters are the only non-Uighur suicide bombers the group has shown. Other nationalities, particularly native Syrians and French, also operate within the ranks of the TIP.