IS declares expansion into AfPak, India


New Delhi: Barely four months after al Qaeda announced the formation of a new wing for the Indian subcontinent, the Islamic State (IS) militant group has named a breakaway Pakistani Taliban commander as its chief for Khurasan, the historic name for the area encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India.

In a video posted online, IS commander Abu Muhammad Al-Adni confirmed the name of former Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Hafiz Saeed Khan as the Amir (chief) of the Khurasan, potentially extending the group's influence into South Asia and challenging al-Qaeda leadership.

Both Al Qaeda, whose chief Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Abbottabad, and IS have launched a push to gain a foothold among Pakistan’s numerous terror groups. Press Trust of India reports that 42 year old Saeed, appeared in a video ten days ago to announce his defection from Taliban. He belongs to Orakzai Agency and has served as head of the Taliban Orakzai tribal region. TTP is an umbrella movement linked to al-Qaeda headed by Egyptian militant Aiyman al-Zawahiri. Several former al-Qaeda and TTP militants have abandoned their outfits to join the terrorist group IS.

Reuters reports that splits within the Taliban, and doubts over whether its elusive leader is even alive, are driving a growing number of militant commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan towards Islamic State (IS) for inspiration. It quotes “one of several disgruntled militant leaders (in Afghanistan’s Kunar province) who belong to the so-called Khorasan chapter, an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries”, as saying that "Look, we have been fighting for years but we don't have an inch of land in our possession in Afghanistan…On the other hand, Daish, within limited time, captured vast areas in Iraq and Syria and established Sharia. This is what is being discussed all the time in our circles.”  Referring to the IS leader, the commander said, “We have serious doubts about whether he (Mullah Omar) is alive at all ... Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is visible and is leading his people.”

In October 2014, a group of TTP commanders pledged allegiance to IS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Apart from former TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid, these included five commanders of the TTP in Pakistan’s tribal areas- TTP amir for Orakzai Agency Saeed Khan, TTP’s Kurram Agency chapter chief Daulat Khan, Fateh Gul Zaman, who heads TTP in Khyber Agency, TTP’s Peshawar amir Mufti Hassan and TTP’s Hangu chief Khalid Mansoor. 

Hindustan Times reports that security analysts said Indian authorities would need to keep a close watch on the latest development in view of the recruitment of several young Indian men, including four engineering students from Kalyan in Maharashtra’s Thane district, by the IS. The four students were radicalised over the internet and had gone to join IS militants in Iraq and Syria. At least one of them has returned to India and is being questioned by the intelligence agencies.

Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies said, “These assertions have to be monitored carefully in view of the use of cyber-technology by such non-state actors to recruit in countries like India. Such messages are motivational efforts to recruit and also part of the narrative to give credibility and visibility to non-state actors.” 

The concept of Khurasan has been used in the past too for recruitment in the region, Bhaskar pointed out. “The region depicted as part of Khurasan has been a fertile area to encourage people to pick up arms,” he said.

In his statement, al-Adni said: “…we bring the mujahideen the good news of the Islamic State’s expansion to Khurasan.” Noting that militants in the region had pledged allegiance to “Khalifah Ibrahim”, the name used by IS to refer to its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Adni called on all mujahideen to “join the caravan of the Khalifah and abandon disunity and factionalism” and to fight to “enforce tawhid (monotheism) and vanquish shirk (polytheism)”.

Earlier this month, several mid-level TTP commanders pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a video released to jihadi forums. Saeed Khan, who belongs to the Orakzai tribal region, too released a video to announce his defection from the TTP, which is perceived as being closer to al Qaeda.

India, with the world's third-largest Muslim population, last month banned IS, days after detaining an engineer for running a popular Twitter account extolling the militant group.

Copying IS methods, a group of local loyalists posted a video this month of the beheading of a Pakistani soldier, a propaganda tactic rare in the region.

In Kabul, a group of students formed an underground IS support group.

In Pakistan, graffiti praising IS has been spotted in some areas. Security forces also arrested the man they believed was the IS commander in the country and two accomplices involved in recruiting and sending fighters to Syria. 


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