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Exposing Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-KP)

Islamic State, ISIS, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia

Counterterrorism

Exposing Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-KP)

Although US and Afghan special forces have inflicted serious damage on the group, ISIS-KP has proven resilient. In 2016, ISIS -KP killed over 800 people in over 100 attacks IS-KP also promotes sectarian violence and targets civilians who do not adhere to its strict interpretation of Islam and jihadist ideology. Vedika Zanwar

ISIS-KP is an officially recognized Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate that adheres to IS’s global jihadist ideology and follows an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti-Western. It promotes sectarian violence and targets as infidels and apostates those who disagree with its interpretations. The objective of ISIS-KP is to establish the wilayat (province) of Khorasan as part of the global caliphate of ISIS. Khorasan is the historical name for the region encompassing present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

In October 2014, six former senior Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In January 2015, then-ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani accepted the pledge of allegiance and announced the creation of ISIS-KP.

Designation as a terrorist Organization 

Country Date
United States May 20, 2016
Canada May 23, 2018
India June 21, 2018
Iraq May 16, 2019

Rise, fall and spread of ISIS-KP

In 2014, Pakistani national Hafiz Saeed Khan was chosen to spearhead IS-K province as its first emir. Khan, a veteran Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander, brought along other prominent TTP members—including the group’s spokesperson Sheikh Maqbool and many district chiefs—when he initially pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi in October 2014.

ISIS-K’s early membership included a contingent of Pakistani militants who emerged in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province around 2010, just across the border from Pakistan’s former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Many of these militants were estranged members of TTP and Lashkar-e Islam, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Haqqani Network, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had also defected to ISIS-K.

In 2016, the group lost control of the majority of its territory in Nangarhar province. It was driven out of Achin and Shinwar Districts following a military operation by Afghan Security Forces, while clashes with the Taliban led it out of Batikot and Chaparhar districts.

The UNSC report states a core group of 1500-2200 fighters, but smaller cells are active across the country. “The core group in Kunar consists mainly of Afghan and Pakistani nationals, while smaller groups located in Badakhshan, Kunduz and Sar-e-Pol are predominantly made up of local ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.”

ISIS-KP at a glance

Leaders Emir:

• Hafiz Saeed Khan (2015–July 2016)
• Abdul Haseeb Logari (2016–April 2017)
• Abdul Rahman Ghaleb (April–July 2017)
• Abu Saad Erhabi (July 2017–August 2018)
• Zia ul-Haq (August 2018–April 2019)
• Abdullah Orokzai (POW)2 (April 2019–April 2020)
• Shahab al-Muhajir (April 2020–present)
Field commanders:
• Qari Hekmat
• Mufti Nemat (surrendered)
• Dawood Ahmad Sofi
• Mohamed Zahran
• Ishfaq Ahmed Sofi

Dates of operation January 26, 2015–present
Active regions Afghanistan
Tajikistan
Pakistan
Size In Afghanistan:
1,000 (US estimate)
2,500–4,000 (UN report)
10,000 (Russian estimate)
Part of  Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Allies • Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

• Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (claimed by Tajik
government)
• Jundallah (Pakistan)
• Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (August 2014 – March 2015)
• National Thowheeth Jama’ath (2016 – May 2019)

Opponents • Taliban
• Pakistan
• Tajikistan
• Iran
• India
Battles and
wars
Operation Khyber
War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
• Nangarhar offensive (2016)
• Mohmand Valley raid
• ISIL–Taliban conflict in Afghanistan

Ideology and goals of ISIS-KP

ISIS-KP identifies with Jihadi-Salafism, a distinct ideological movement in Sunni Islam. The group’s ideology is predicated on an extremist interpretation of Islamic scripture and anti-Shiite sectarian views.

The Islamic State adheres to “the Prophetic methodology”, a term it has coined in its press, billboards and propaganda, meaning that the group follows the prophecy and example of Muhammad.

ISIS-K’s media office declared that “There is no doubt that Allah the Almighty blessed us with jihad in the land of Khorasan since a long time ago, and it is from the grace of Allah that we fought any disbeliever who entered the land of Khorasan. All of this is for the sake of establishing the Shariah.” It went on to declare, “Know that the Islamic Caliphate is not limited to a particular country. These young men will fight against every disbeliever, whether in the West, east, south, or north.”

ISIS’ grand strategic aim is to rule all historically Muslim lands in a caliphate that ultimately defeats the West. As an external affiliate, ISIS-KP supports this objective by facilitating the group’s military expansion outside of Iraq and Syria and legitimizing its claimed status as a trans-regional organization. ISIS-KP also aims to directly challenge Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as the leader of the global jihadist movement.

Targets and tactics of ISIS-KP

To attract more recruits and reinforce its brand in Afghanistan, ISIS-KP incorporates many of the same brutal tactics employed by ISIS. Like ISIS, which often uses suicide bombers to clear a path for other militants, IS-KP has conducted several attacks with combined suicide bombers and shooters. For example, in July 2017, IS-KP conducted an “inghimasi” attack against the Iraqi embassy in Kabul. Inghimasis refer to well-trained commandos who are prepared both to fight conventionally and to carry out suicide missions.

ISIS-KP’s primary militant adversary is the Taliban, with which it frequently engages in battles for territorial control over Afghanistan. The hostility between the two groups stems both from ideological differences and competition for resources. ISIS accused the Taliban of drawing its legitimacy from a narrow ethnic and nationalistic base rather than a universal Islamic creed. ISIS-KP is also a staunch enemy of the United States and Afghanistan.

Although US and Afghan special forces have inflicted serious damage on the group, ISIS-KP has proven resilient. In 2016, IS-KP killed over 800 people in over 100 attacks ISIS-KP also promotes sectarian violence and targets civilians who do not adhere to its strict interpretation of Islam and jihadist ideology.

Recruitment and funding of ISIS-KP

ISIS-KP recruits primarily from disaffected former Taliban members, Pakistan, Afghanistan-based Salafists, and foreign sympathizers. Following territorial losses, ISIS-KP is increasingly shifting its recruitment to focus on disaffected, urban, non-Pashtun youth. ISIS-KP receives funding from overseas sympathizers via hawala networks, its own criminal enterprises, and a direct subsidy from Islamic State (ISIS).

Major attacks by ISIS-KP

April 18, 2015: ISIS-KP conducted a suicide bombing outside a bank in Jalalabad, Afghanistan (33 killed, 100+ injured).

May 13, 2015: 6 gunmen allegedly associated with ISIS-KP attacked a bus in Karachi, Pakistan. Although ISIS claimed the attack, Jundullah (a group allegiant to ISIS) and the TTP also claimed responsibility. If ISIS-KP’s claim is accurate, this attack would be its first in Pakistan (45 killed, 13 wounded).

July 23, 2016: ISIS-KP conducted a dual suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, on a group of demonstrators from Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazara minority. The bombing was one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan since the invasion of the United States in 2001 (80+ killed, 230+ wounded).

August 8, 2016: ISIS-KP conducted a suicide bombing at a civil hospital in Quetta, Pakistan. The attack took place after several lawyers and journalists had gathered at the hospital to mourn the death of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association in a separate shooting incident earlier that day. Although the attack is attributed to ISIS-KP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) also claimed responsibility (93 killed, 120 wounded).

October 24, 2016: Three ISIS-KP militants attacked 700 unarmed sleeping cadets at a police training centre in Quetta, Pakistan. Special Services Group commandos rescued at least 260 cadets in a counter-offensive against the attackers. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) also claimed responsibility for the attack (61 killed, 165 injured).

November 12, 2016: ISIS-KP conducted a suicide bombing on civilians gathered for a religious ceremony at a Sufi shrine in Balochistan, Pakistan (52+ killed, 100+ wounded).

February 16, 2017: ISIS-KP conducted a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Pakistan, where hundreds of devotees had gathered to perform a religious ritual. The attack appeared to be concentrated on the portion of the shrine reserved for women (100 killed, 250 wounded).

March 8, 2017: ISIS-KP militants dressed as doctors stormed the largest military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. Armed with guns and grenades, the militants opened fire on staff and patients after detonating explosives at the hospital gate. After several hours of fighting, Afghan commandos killed all four ISIS-KP attackers (49 killed, 90 wounded).

August 1, 2017: Two ISIS-KP suicide bombers attacked a Shiite Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. The militants shot at worshipers inside the mosque (29 killed, 64 injured).

December 28, 2017: An identified ISIS-KP militant attacked a Shiite cultural centre in Kabul, Afghanistan. Many casualties included students attending a conference in the vicinity. Two other car bombs were detonated in the same zone (41 killed, 84 wounded).

March 21, 2018: A suicide bombing later claimed by ISIS-KP detonated near a Shiite shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan during Persian New Year celebrations (33 killed, 65 wounded).

April 22, 2018: An ISIS-KP militant attacked a voter registration centre in Kabul, Afghanistan, using a suicide bomb. The casualties were all identified as civilians, most of whom had been waiting to apply for state-issued IDs in order to register to vote in the upcoming elections (57 killed, 119 injured).

May 8, 2021: A car bombing, followed by two more improvised explosive device (IED) blasts, occurred in front of Sayed al-Shuhada school in Dashte Barchi, a predominantly Shia neighbourhood of western Kabul, leaving at least 90 people dead and 240 injured. The majority of the casualties were girls between 11 and 15 years old. The attack took place in a neighbourhood that militants have frequently attacked, belonging to the regional ISIL-K over the years.

August 26, 2021: An ISIL-K suicide bomber attacked the Kabul airport, killing over 170 people, including 28 Taliban members and 13 US military personnel. Amidst the Taliban advance on Kabul in preceding weeks, hundreds to thousands of ISIL-K prisoners had been released or otherwise escaped from detention, leading to U.S. fears of attacks on the airport and future targets.

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