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The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) Mystery from China to Syria

2024-05-08 11:01

Issam Khoury

#SyriaConflict , #RegionalStability , #GlobalJihad , #TurkistanIslamicParty , #InternationalSecurity,

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) Mystery from China to Syria

"TIP strengthens as a key player in Syria's ongoing conflict."

The global call for jihad has prompted a significant number of radical fighters to travel to Syria in support of the oppressed Sunni majority against the Syrian regime. With the arrival of radical jihadists in Syrian territory, the peaceful nature of the Syrian revolution has transformed into a state of civil war. Flags of Islamic unity have been raised in areas controlled by the Syrian opposition, and Afghan and Pakistani Islamic attire has become prevalent among male fighters, which is uncommon in Syrian culture.


Syrians struggled to differentiate between the nationalities of fighters coming from the Caucasus regions, so they labeled them as "Caucasian Mujahideen." The majority of them were from Tajikistan, followed by Uzbeks and Chechens, with a smaller number from China, specifically Uighurs. Interestingly, the number of Uighur fighters in Syria has grown to between three and four thousand, while the number of fighters from other non-Syrian nationalities has decreased due to some returning to their countries or suffering casualties in battles.


Amid the conflict between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other Islamic factions like Jund Allah and Jund al-Sham, fighters from these groups joined the Turkistan Islamic Party, bolstering the party's strength, especially with trained fighters under the renowned leader Abu Muslim al-Shishani[1].


A new source of strength came to the Turkistan Islamic Party on October 20, 2020, when the US Treasury Department removed the party from its list of terrorist organizations[2]. This development provided a glimmer of hope for the Nusra Front, as it collaborates with the Turkistan Islamic Party within the so-called "Hayat Tahrir al-Sham." Additionally, this international shift towards the Turkistan Islamic Party presented an opportunity for the party to attract fierce fighters unwilling to operate under the authority of the Nusra Front.


The Uyghur people of China are known for their strong adherence to the Islamic faith, considering themselves descendants of the famous Islamic warrior Artuk Bey and his son Osman, the founder of the Ottoman state which later evolved into the Ottoman Empire. Faced with persecution in the Xinjiang region of China, many sought refuge in Turkey, with an estimated twenty thousand residing there.


During the armed conflict in Syria, they were among the forefront of foreign fighters supporting the Syrian Sunnis, particularly due to their ethnic ties to the Syrian Turkmens who were early rebels against the Assad regime, spread across villages from the Syrian-Turkish border to the city of Latakia. The initial base for Uyghur jihadist fighters was in the countryside of Latakia, specifically in the village of Salma, expanding their activities to include the wider areas of the Kurdish Mountains. They only appeared as an organized and cohesive armed wing during the battles of Jisr al-Shughur, where they were the decisive force that ousted the Syrian regime in Idlib and the rural areas of Hama.


Given their proficiency in the Turkish language, their communication with Turkish intelligence was strong, possibly acting as a Turkish arm that prevented other radical jihadist organizations from carrying out extremist operations against the international community. It's worth noting that despite pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front did not conduct any operations against American bases in Syria, nor did they carry out bombings threatening the national security of Washington's allies or the European Union. Their military activities were confined within Syrian borders, with their main adversaries being the Syrian regime, the Russian Federation, and Iranian militias.


The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) also played a cooperative role with various extremist radical organizations. When a conflict arose between the Islamic State organization and the Al-Nusra Front, the Uighurs of China remained neutral, relying on their belief that their main adversary was the Syrian regime that targets Sunni Muslims. They firmly adhere to the prohibition of fighting among Muslims, citing the noble saying, "The blood, honor, and wealth of every Muslim are forbidden to another Muslim. A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim; he should not oppress him or forsake him[3]".


Many radical jihadist clerics outside the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) also preached against fighting among Muslims but secretly supported one party over the other. Conversely, members of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) remained committed to their religious and ideological discourse, distancing themselves from the looting practices of armed opposition militia checkpoints. Perhaps because they see themselves as key defenders of the Islamic State in Idlib province, the Turkish state has entrusted them with the authority to act in various sensitive security and military matters. They were tasked with establishing fortified operations rooms on strategic hilltops, with one of their prominent military sites being the Jeb Ahmar "Red Hill" position, a high location overlooking the Syrian forest area, serving as a crucial defense line against any movements from the Fourth Division and Hezbollah from the outskirts of Hama. The Syrian regime, backed by Russian airpower, has repeatedly tried to capture this strategic hill but has consistently failed. The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) has dug a small underground base within the hill, equipped with multiple rooms, making it highly fortified against aerial strikes, rendering any attempt to breach these hills extremely costly, if not impossible.

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The male fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) are dispersed in various mountainous regions, with notable concentrations in the Red Hill, Kensba, Halouz, Kabana, and Sarmenia areas. They possess advanced techniques compared to other Islamic factions, notably in marches and night vision equipment. They are vigilant about the security of their military zones, deploying surveillance cameras to ensure no infiltration by enemies. They maintain the anonymity of their leaders and avoid media exposure, with their most prominent appearance being in November 2021, where many of their leaders were filmed, some with obscured faces.


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It is estimated that the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) and their families total around seven thousand individuals, distributed in areas such as Jisr al-Shughour, Al-Ghasaniyah, Halouz, Al-Zaytouna, Ishtabraq, Turkmen Mountain, Mount Samaq, Zizoun, and Kensba. This party enjoys strong support from Syrian Turkmen Sunnis, making it a more socially embraced entity compared to groups like Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.


Considering Turkey's appreciation for elements of this party, it is speculated that the Turkistan Islamic Party could potentially become a political and military alternative to Abu Mohammed al-Jolani if Turkey's allies decide to remove him from Idlib to eradicate the terrorism label in the region. This could establish a stronghold for armed opposition capable of challenging the Russian Federation stationed at the Khmeimim Air Base in Latakia.




[1] Abu Muslim Walid Al-Shishani: His real name is Murad Margoshvili, born in 1972, and descends from the Chechen tribes that live in the Caucasus region. He participated in the first and second battles of Chechnya.


[2] Terrorist Exclusion List, 


[3] A Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, narrated by Al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, and Ibn Majah.

This hadith highlights the significance of brotherhood, mutual respect, and the value of piety in Islam. It underscores the need for Muslims to protect and uplift each other, promoting unity and righteousness in the community.

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