ISIS “Khorasan Province” claimed responsibility for the bloody attack that hit Kabul airport on Thursday, killing and wounding more than 150 people. So what is ISIS-Khorasan?
ISIS- Khorasan was named after an old name that was given to the region, and it first appeared in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014, and quickly became famous thanks to its horrific operations. Some experts in extremist movements say that ISIS-K was established by extremist elements of the “Pakistan Taliban” who fled to Afghanistan when the Pakistani security forces launched a campaign against them.
Some sources indicate that Shehab al-Muhajir is the leader of the “ISIS” branch in the region. It is believed that the group has between 1,500 to 2,000 fighters in Afghanistan, according to a UN report issued last June.
ISIS- Khorasan has fought both the Western-backed Afghan government and the Taliban. US intelligence officials believe the movement is exploiting the turmoil that led to the collapse of the Western-backed government this month to expand its base and intensify recruitment among disaffected Taliban elements.
Among the group’s recent targets are Sufi mosques, electricity towers, fuel trucks and bus passengers from Hazaras in Kabul. In addition, US officials believe the group is responsible for an attack on a girls’ school primarily belonging to the Hazara minority.
From the beginning, the extremist organization, commonly known as ISIS, has entered into confrontations with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan to control key areas on the border with Pakistan linked to the smuggling of drugs and other goods. At the same time, the organization also carried out a series of suicide bombings in Kabul and other cities against the government and foreign military targets, apparently in an attempt to consolidate its image as a more violent and extremist movement.
Its attacks have ranged from gruesome executions of village dignitaries, killing of Red Cross employees, to suicide attacks among crowds, including carrying out a series of bloody suicide attacks against targets linked to the Hazara minority.
ISIS-Khorasan initially limited its presence to a limited number of areas on the border with Pakistan, and then established a second major front in the northern provinces including Jawzjan and Faryab. The West Point Counterterrorism Center has said ISIS-K includes Pakistanis from other extremist groups, Uzbek extremists, as well as Afghans
With the Islamic State losing territory in Iraq and Syria, “attention has increasingly shifted to Afghanistan as the base of its global caliphate,” according to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The UN says the group relies primarily on cells scattered across the country that operate independently but share the same ideology.
“Despite the overall losses during 2020, the organization continues to pose a threat to the country and the region wider,” the UN report states.
According to the UN, in the first four months of 2021 alone, the organization launched 77 attacks in Afghanistan. This represents a significant increase from the same period in 2020, when the number of attacks claimed by the organization reached 21 attacks.
Jennifer Cafarella, a national security fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, says the group has struggled to gain a significant foothold in Afghanistan, and remains a potent threat and one of the “most important groups affiliated with the global Islamic State.” Cavarella expects ISIS to try to undermine Taliban rule and “attack the Taliban’s religious legitimacy on the ground.”