The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) in China, Syria and Beyond


    1.0 Introduction

    The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is an Uyghur Islamist extremist organisation founded by Hasan Mahsum in Pakistan. The party has operated since 1997 with the stated aim of establishing an Islamic state in Xinjiang, China as well as Central Asia. Viewed by the Chinese government as a jihadist movement akin to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, it is active in the Syrian civil war through its sub-group the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (TIPS). However, the United States government actively rejects the Chinese-claimed links between the TIP and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). It asserts that the Chinese government has misused the ETIM claims to justify its “oppressive policies” against Muslims in Xinjiang. [Source]

    Flag of the Turkistan Islamic Party
    Flag of the Turkistan Islamic Party [Image source]

    2.0 History of the Turkistan Islamic Party – Earlier groups

    In 1940 three Uyghurs, Abdul Hameed, Abdul Azeez Makhdoom and Abdul Hakeem Makhdoom created the Hizbul Islam Li-Turkestan (Islamic Party of Turkistan/Turkestan Islamic Movement). Through the 1940s and into 1952 the three led a series of uprisings against local warlords and later against the Central Chinese government. [Source]

    In the late 1950s, the government imprisoned Abdul Hakeem, drove Abdul Hameed underground, and potentially killed Abdul Azeez Makhdoom, who disappeared. This led to the decline of the organisation until the late 1970s when Abdul Hakeem Makhdoom was freed from Prison. [Source]

    After his release from prison in 1979, Abdul Hakeem Makhdoom actively established underground religious schools in Xinjiang, where he began teaching fundamentalist Islam to religious students. One of Abdul Hakeem Makhdooms’ students between 1984 and 1989, Hasan Mahsum, founded the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in 1997 in Pakistan. [Source]

    2.1 History of the Turkistan Islamic Party – Hasan Mahsum

    Hasan Mahsum was imprisoned multiple times throughout the 1990s and in 1995 he was transferred to a labour camp in Urumqi. During the Chinese government’s “strike hard” campaigns in August 1996 Mahsum was briefly detained until September 1996. During his prison sentence, Mahsum communicated with several other Uyghur separatists and extremists and gradually adopted a radical Islamist ideology. Post-release he travelled from Urumqi to Beijing and then to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in January 1997. [Source]

    Hasan Mahsum leader of the ETIM and Turkistan Islamic Party from 1997 to 2003
    Hasan Mahsum leader of the ETIM and TIP from 1997 to 2003 [Image source]

    Whilst in Jeddah, from January to March 1997, Mahsum attempted to mobilise the local Uyghur community to wage a jihad against the Chinese government in Beijing. He received very little support for his cause whilst in Jeddah as local businessmen and the local community regarded militancy in Xinjiang as a lost cause. [Source]

    In March and April 1997, Mahsum travelled to Pakistan and then on to Turkey in April 1997. These trips resulted in very little support for the Uyghur cause. However, in February 1997 an uprising in Xinjiang which resulted in several days of clashes with the Chinese government led to growing tensions which provided a favourable environment for Mahsum to campaign for his cause. In May 1997 Mahsum and a small group of his followers travelled to Afghanistan where they began to create relationships with local Islamist and Jihadist movements. [Source]

    2.2 History of the Turkistan Islamic Party – Establishment of the ETIM

    In September 1997, Mahsum and his deputy Abduqadir Uapqan established the ETIM in Pakistan. However, the group could only attract around ten members by March 1998. Mahsum then accepted and promoted a pan-Turkic ideology within the ETIM and began seeking closer cooperation with other Turkic peoples outside of China. As the leader of the ETIM, Hasan Mahsum coordinated the ETIM’s activities from abroad and began setting up training bases inside Xinjiang. During the late 1990s, the ETIM also established secret cells in many locations within Xinjiang including Urumqu, Khotan Prefecture, Shcahce, and Zepu amongst many others. [Source]

    Mahsum received support and direction from the Taliban and al-Qaeda who trained Xinjiang militants in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Chinese government alleged that Hasan Mahsum had travelled and met with Osama bin Laden in 1999 and received his support, Mahsum denied this. During the invasion of Afghanistan by the US and coalition forces in 2001, Mahsum led his men there to support the Taliban. On October 2, 200, Hasan Mahsum was killed alongside eight other militants, including an al-Qaeda leader in a Pakistani army raid in the South Waziristan area in Pakistan. [Source]

    2.3 History of the Turkistan Islamic Party – From ETIM to TIP

    In 2000, Mahsum reformed the ETIM and changed its name to “Hizbul Islam Li-Turkistan” (Turkestan Islamic Party). Although the group name changed, China continued to refer to the TIP as the ETIM and has adopted it in official documents since 2002. Between 2000 and 2001, ETIM (TIP) militants actively underwent training in several camps across Afghanistan, where the group had relocated its headquarters. Training sessions took place in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif, focusing primarily on basic military techniques, including weapons-handling drills and guerrilla warfare tactics. [Source]

    After the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they detained 36 Uyghur militants. Several of them recounted being individually trained by Hasan Mahsum, and they expressed that they did not perceive the United States as an enemy. However, all of the detainees described China as an oppressive occupier. [Source]

    Between 2003 and 2006 there was an obvious decline in the activities of the ETIM (TIP).  on January 5, 2007, the Chinese police destroyed an ETIM training camp in the mountains of Pamirs plateau in southern Xinjiang. They captured seventeen ETIM militants and seized guns and hand grenades as well as improvised explosive devices. [Source]

    3.0 Chinese government accusations

    The Chinese government has stated that the TIP has close ties with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). However, the US government has refuted this and stated that there is “no credible evidence” of any ETIM activity since the 2000s. Arguing instead that the Chinese government has used the alleged ETIM-TIP links to justify its “oppressive policies” against Xinjiang Muslims. After the 9/11 attacks, the Chinese government began to attempt to include the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang within the broader framework of the international struggle against Islamic terrorist networks. [Source, source]

    The TIP has several links to al-Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Pakistani Taliban. The United States government has also designated the TIP as having received “training and financial assistance” from al-Qaeda. [Source]

    During the mid-2010s, the relationship between the TIP and al-Qaeda was subject to debate, but they progressively grew more aligned. In 2014 the al-Qaeda aligned al-Fajr Media Center began distributing TIP promotional material. TIP leader Abdul Haq confirmed his and the TIP’s loyalty to al-Qaeda in May 2016. Subsequently, the movement was endorsed by Ayman Al-Zawahiri in 2016 in the 9th edition of the Islamic Spring publication. [Source, source, source]

    Airstrikes in February 2018 were conducted against camps belonging to the Taliban and Turkistan Islamic Party in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. The strikes targeted training facilities and stolen Aghan National Army vehicles which according to USAF Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of NATO Air Command Afghanistan, was

    “in the process of being converted to vehicle-born improvised explosive devices”.

    He also went on to state that the

    “Etim enjoys support from the taliban in the mountains of Badakhstan, so hitting these Taliban training facilities and squeezing the Taliban’s support networks degrades etim capabilities”.

    [Source, source]

    After the 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan following the US withdrawal from the country, the TIP was removed from Badakhshan. This was due to the new Taliban-led government seeking increasingly closer ties to China. [Source]

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcoming Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcoming Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar [Image source]

    5.0 Turkistan Islamic Party forces in Syria

    The Turkistan Islamic Party sent the Katibat Turkistani (Turkistan Brigade) to take part in the Syrian Civil War. They were sent as a part of the network of al-Qaeda-aligned groups. Alongside al-Nusra, they took part in the 2015 Jisr al-Shughur offensive where they formed a part of the Army of Conquest coalition. During this offensive, the coalition of jihadist groups which included Ahrar al-Sham, Ansar Sham, Jaysh al Islam, Jabhat Ansar al-Din and many others, assaulted Assad regime forces near Jisr al Shughyr and Al Mastoumah in Idlib. The assault also included fighting against the regime in the Al Ghab plain in Hama and the Latakia province. [Source]

    Described as well-organised, experienced and having an important role in the offensives against Bashar al-Assad. They operate against government forces in Syria’s northern regions. Abu Dardaa al-Shami, a member of Jund al-Aqsa said that the TIP fighters have the best “Inghemasiyoun”, Arabic for “those who immerse themselves”. [Source]

    Extremist groups in Syria actively employ this specific group of fighters as shock troops, utilizing them in suicide attacks. They are organized into teams and tasked with infiltrating enemy positions to maximize destruction and damage, with the expectation that they will not survive the mission. The word “Inghemasiyoun” comes from the Arabic word Inghamasa meaning “to plunge” or “become immersed”. [Source]

    5.1 Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (TIPS)

    The Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (TIPS) is the Syrian branch of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP). The TIP sent the “Turkistan Brigade” (Katibat Turkistani) also known as the Turkistan Islamic Party In Syria to take part in the Syrian Civil War. The TIPS has taken part in multiple offensives and battles within the Syrian Civil War (more details below). It is extremely active and has cooperated with several al-Qaeda affiliate groups such as al-Nusra Front. The group has also collaborated with the Turkish armed forces by sending its fighters to guard a Turkish military delegation. [Source, source, source]

    The TIPS is well-armed armed, and violent and has taken part in the repression of Christians in Syria, having been filmed desecrating churches and also killing Christians which they accused of collaborating with the Assad regime. [Source, source]

    Flag of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria
    Flag of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria [Image source]

    5.1.1 TIPS Child Soldiers

    The TIPS has set up camps which have trained children in Jihad and Jihadist tactics. Uyghur child soldiers have been shown on video being instructed in Sharia and training with guns and equipment. [Source, source]

    Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria child soldiers.
    TIPS child soldiers [Image source]

    5.2 Syria – Yurtugh Tactical – Shared goals?

    Uyghur fighters make up the tactical group Yurtugh Tactical, which is active in Syria. established in 2018 by seasoned warriors with extensive training and specialisation who, a Yurtugh Tactical spokesman claimed, had been “deprived of military knowledge by the Chinese regime.” Establishing the groundwork for a state known as “East Turkestan” and imparting precise military knowledge to the Uyghur populace are the primary goals of Yurtugh Tactical. [Source]

    Yurtugh Tactical fighter training on a firing range
    Yurtugh Tactical fighter training on a firing range

    Since August 2021, Yurtugh Tactical has spread several videos and training images on varying social media platforms such as Telegram.  On 25 September, the group posted a video in cooperation with Albanian Tactical which was titled “Training of the day”. The video displayed a team leader drilling his fighters in the four basic rules of firearm safety and then showing the fighters varying weapons and training techniques. 

    The official social media account of the Turkestan Islamic Party published a 7-minute video which was titled “Shooting competition”. This video showed TIP fighters belonging to the Syrian branch of the party being supervised and organised by Yurtugh Tactical fighters. [Source]

    The spokesman for Yurtugh Tactical declared that while the organization shares the same objectives as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) – namely, to “liberate East Turkistan from Chinese occupation” – they assert that they are not associated with or connected to the TIP. Instead, they emphasize that they are an autonomous organization. [Source, source]

    6.0 Ideology of the Turkistan Islamic Party

    The NEFA foundation translated and re-released an article published by the TIP which stated that the goal of the TIP is the independence of East Turkestan. In this article, the group states that it contrasts the “Muslims” and “Chinese” and asks its members and the Uyghur population to not enter spaces in which Chinese people are present. This is similar in rhetoric to other groups which instead of taking an ethnic-centric approach to its ideology it instead focuses on the wider Islamic community. [Source]

    “China has taken advantage of the fact that the Muslim and Arab world is preoccupied with regional and international problems in order to execute its plans and achieve its goals in turkestan: implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing; the mass population transfer of our muslim people; and, the abolishment of everything that is muslim and uprooting the turkestan people, falsely connecting them with china”

    Shaykh Bashir – spokesperson of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP)

    6.0 Organisation

    6.1 Notable members of the Turkistan Islamic Party

    There are several notable members of the TIP and its predecessor organisation the ETIM and they are:

    6.1.1 Pre-ETIM-TIP change

    1. Abdul Hakeem Makhdoom – One of three founders of the ETIM in 1940 who led a series of uprisings against local warlords and later against the Central Chinese government. After his release from prison in 1979, he actively began instructing religious students in Xinjiang in Islamic fundamentalism. [Source]
    2. Abdul Hameed – Abdul Hameed was one of three founders of the ETIM in 1940. Driven underground by the Chinese government. [Source]
    3. Abdul Azeez Makhdoom – Abdul Azeez Makhdoom One of the founders of the ETIM in 1940. Disappeared and was potentially killed by the Chinese government. [Source]

    6.1.2 ETIM

    1. Hasan Mahsum – One of Abdul Hakeem Makhdooms’ students between 1984 and 1989, Hasan Mahsum, founded the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in 1997 in Pakistan. Shot dead in a counter-terrorist operation by the Pakistani army on 2 October 2003. [Source, source]
    2. Abduqadir Uapqan – Hasan Mahsum’s deputy who he helped to create the ETIM in September 1997 in Pakistan. [Source]

    6.1.3 TIP

    1. Hasan Mahsum – Emir of the Turkistan Islamic Party from 1997 to 2 October 2003 when he was killed. [Source]
    2. Abdul Haq al-Turkistani – Abdul Haq al-Turkistani is an Uyghur Islamist militant who leads the Turkistan Islamic Party. He took over after the death of Hasan Mahsum in 2003. On 1 March 2010, reports emerged stating that he died in a missile strike by an American drone on 15 February 2010. However, he reportedly survived with severe wounds and subsequently recovered, resuming leadership of the TIP in 2014. [Source, source]
    3. Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani – Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani, also known as Abdul Shakoor Damla and Emeti Yakuf was the emir of the TIP from 2010 to 2012. He was killed in North Waziristan in a CIA drone strike on 24 August 2012. [Source]
    4. Abdullah Mansour – Abdullah Mansour is a Uyghur militant who was the leader of the TIP from 2013-2014 before Abdul Haq al-Turkistani’s return. He claimed responsibility for the 2013 Tiananmen Square attack which killed five people. He is quoted as saying “The people have learned who is the real enemy and they returned to their own religion. They learned the lesson.” [Source]
    Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party
    Abdul Haq al-Turkistani [Image source]

    6.2 Structure of the TIP – Membership size

    Membership numbers of the group range from several dozen to several thousand fighters. Estimates of the group’s size by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have put the group’s size at around several thousand fighters. [Source]

    6.2.1 Membership Size of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria

    The Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (TISP) has, according to Rami Abdurrahman at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 5000 members in Syria. However, Li Wei, a terrorism expert at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and Director of the CICIR Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies, stated that the numbers of fighters in Syria are around 300 Chinese fighters and their family members are around 700. [Source]

    Large amounts of TIPS fighters gathering before battles in northern Syria
    Large amounts of TIPS fighters gathering before battles in northern Syria [Image source]

    6.2.2 Structure of the TIP – Members in Guantanamo Bay detention

    The United States captured 22 Uyghur militants in Afghanistan in 2006 due to information that they had obtained stating al-Qaeda links. These fighters were imprisoned without trial in Guantanamo Bay and testified they were trained by Abdul Haq, the ETIM leader. After being given the status No Longer Enemy Combatant they were ordered to be released. They were released to Albania under fears that if they were deported to China they would be tortured. [Source]

    6.3 Structure of the TIP – Media

    The TIP established its media arm, Sawt al-Islam (Voice of Islam), in 2008 and commenced releasing video messages to its followers. The full name of the TIP’s media centre is the “Turkistan Islamic Party Voice of Islam Media Center” (Türkistan Islam Partiyisi Islam Awazi Teshwiqat Merkizi). [Source, source]

    6.3.1 Structure of the TIP – Terrorist designation

    Since the 9/11 attacks, ten countries along with the EU and the United Nations have designated the group as a terrorist organization. The United States formerly designated the ETIM as a terrorist group. However, it revoked this designation in October 2020 on the basis that “there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist”. The US continues to view the TIP as a terrorist organisation however and stated that the TIP “is a separate organization that China and others have incorrectly identified as ETIM”. China accused the US of double standards regarding the delisting of the TIP, while the US argued that the label had been misused by the Chinese government to oppress Muslims in Xinjiang. [Source, source, source, source, source]

    7.0 Equipment of the TIP

    The Turkistan ISlamic Party has large amounts of equipment which it gives to its fighters, including the Turkistan ISlamic Party in Syria (TIPS).

    7.1 Weapons of the TIP

    The TIPS fighters can be seen with several weapons including but not limited to:

    • AK-47
    • AK-74
    • AKM
    • PKM Machine gun
    • SVD sniper rifle
    • SKS rifle
    • Steyr AUG
    • Truck-mounted HMGs (Heavy machine guns)
    • Truck-mounted anti-aircraft (AA) cannons
    • Artillery pieces
    • RPGs and other rocket launcher variants
    • AM-50 Sayyad anti-materiel rifle

    7.2 Vehicles of the TIP

    The TIP and TIPS have been seen in several photographs and videos released by the group with several vehicles such as:

    • Motorcycles
    • Soviet/Russian T variant tanks (captured presumably from the Syrian army)
    • Trucks (Used to mount heavy weapons)

    8.0 Attacks by the TIP and TIPS

    The TIP and TIPS have carried out several attacks over the years that it has been active. This includes attacks in both China and also abroad in Syria where the TIP branch, the TIPS, is active.

    8.1 TIP attacks

    The TIP has committed several attacks in China and Central Asia such as:

    • 2011 – The TIP claimed responsibility for several attacks in Xinjiang in 2011, resulting in the deaths of at least three dozen people. [Source]
    • October 2013 – A suicide attack in Tiananmen Square caused 5 deaths and injured 38 people. The Chinese police described it as the first attack within Beijing in decades and the TIP claimed responsibility for the attack. [Source]
    • August 2016 – In August 2016, a suicide bombing targeted the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan, injuring staffers. The Kyrgyzstan State Security Service later attributed the attack to the TIP. [Source]

    8.2 TIPS Operational Involvement in Syria

    The TIPS has participated in several operations in Syria such as:

    • Northwestern Syria offensive (April–June 2015) [Source]
    • Al-Ghab offensive (July–August 2015) [Source]
    • Siege of Abu al-Duhur Airbase [Source]
    • Northwestern Syria offensive (October–November 2015) [Source]
    • Latakia offensive (2015–2016) [Source]
    • Siege of Al-Fu’ah-Kafarya (2015) [Source]
    • Aleppo offensive (April and May 2016) [Source]
    • Hama offensive (March-April 2017) [Source]
    • Idlib Governorate clashes (July 2017) [Source]
    • Northwestern Syria campaign (October 2017-February 2018) [Source]
    • Turkish military operation in the Idlib Governorate [Source]
      • Note – the TIP escorted a delegation of Turkish military officials
    • “Dawn of Idlib” Northwestern Syria offensive (2019) [Source]
    • Northwestern Syria offensive (December 2019 – March 2020) [Source]


    Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is a Uyghur Islamic extremist organisation which has an active branch in Syria known as the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria (TIPS). Active in both China and Syria as well as across central Asia it has been a destabilising force in the Chinese Xinjiang province for decades. Chinese efforts to combat the insurgency in Xinjiang have only increased supporting sentiments towards the Uyghur population. The US government has accused the Chinese of using alleged ETIM-TIP inks to oppress the Xinjiang Uyghur Muslim population. With a large presence and involvement in Syria and China, this group has the potential to cause widespread strife across much of Western China.

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