- Frank Gardner
- BBC security reporter
Isis-K, which stands for Islamic State of Khorasan Province, is a regional branch of the Islamic State (also known as the acronym Isis) that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is the most violent and extreme of all militant groups jihadists (who promote the so-called Muslim “holy war”; understand) in Afghanistan.
This regional arm was created in January 2015 at the height of Islamic State power in Iraq and Syria, before its self-declared caliphate in the Middle East was defeated and dismantled by a US-led coalition.
Analysts believe that this extremist group may be the perpetrator of bomb attacks at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, this Thursday (26/8). The attacks were condemned by the Taleban, an Islamic fundamentalist group that took power in Afghanistan in mid-August.
Isis-K recruits jihadists Afghans and Pakistanis, especially Taliban defectors who don’t consider their own organization extreme enough.
How extreme is the extreme?
Isis-K has been blamed for some of the worst atrocities in recent years in the region, targeting girls’ schools, hospitals and even a maternity hospital.
Unlike the Taliban, whose interest is more restricted to Afghanistan, Isis-K is part of the Islamic State’s global network that seeks to carry out attacks against targets identified as Western and humanitarian.
Where are they located?
Isis-K is based in Nangarhar Province in the east, close to the people and drug trafficking routes to Pakistan, just across the border.
At its peak, the group had about 3,000 fighters — but it suffered significant casualties in clashes with US, Afghan and Taliban security forces.
Laterally, yes, through a third organization — the Haqqani network, closely linked to the Taliban. One sign of this relationship is the surname of the man in charge of Kabul’s security today, Khalil Haqqani, leader of the network.
Sajjan Gohel, a researcher at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, has monitored militant networks in Afghanistan for years.
He says that “several major attacks between 2019 and 2021 involved collaboration between Isis-K, the Haqqani network and the Taliban, as well as other Pakistan-based terrorist groups.”
When the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15, the group released large numbers of detainees from Pul-e-Charki prison — according to some reports, some of them were Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants. These people are now on the loose.
But Isis-K also has differences with the Taliban, accusing it of abandoning Jihad and the battlefield in favor of a peace deal negotiated in “chic hotels” in Doha, Qatar.
Islamic State militants now pose a major security challenge for the next Taleban government, something the leadership of this group has in common with Western intelligence agencies.
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