New policy confirms US is at war with Islam, say extremist groups

WASHINGTON • Extremist groups celebrated the Trump administration's travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

Comments posted to pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) social media accounts predicted that President Donald Trump's executive order would persuade American Muslims to side with the extremists.

One post hailed Mr Trump as "the best caller to Islam", while others predicted he would soon launch a new war in the Middle East.

"(ISIS leader Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi has the right to come out and inform Trump that banning Muslims from entering America is a 'blessed ban'," said one post to a pro-ISIS channel on Telegram, a social-media platform.

The writer compared the executive order to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which militant leaders at the time hailed as a "blessed invasion" that ignited anti-Western fervour across the Islamic world.

Several posts suggested that Mr Trump was fulfilling the predictions of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Al-Qaeda leader and preacher who famously said that the "West would eventually turn against its Muslim citizens".

He was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

ISIS leaders often speak of their intention to drive a wedge between Western governments and their Muslim populations, and have welcomed outside help - intentional or not - in fulfilling that goal.

In a 2015 essay in ISIS' English-language magazine Dabiq, the group said its motivation for launching terrorist attacks in Europe was to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash that would force ambivalent Muslims to enlist with them.

Extremists "would have to argue to lengths that (former US presidents) Obama, Bush, and others held anti-Islam agendas and hated the religion - not just radical terrorists," said Ms Rita Katz, founder of the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites.

"Trump, however, makes that argument a lot easier for them to sell to their followers."

The reaction to the ban from ISIS sympathisers came as current and former US officials also expressed concern that the temporary ban would undermine the global fight against violent militants.

Mr Robert Richer, a 35-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran and former chief of its Near East division, said the ban was a "strategic mistake" that could undermine future efforts to recruit spies and collect vital information about terrorists and their plans.

"It fuels the belief out there that Americans are anti-Islam. Otherwise, it accomplishes nothing, because the ones we are most concerned about can still get to the United States," he said.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'New policy confirms US is at war with Islam, say extremist groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe