In the midst of the Western rout by the rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a “very important terrorist alert” has further aggravated the chaos of the evacuation from Kabul and led to the interruption of evacuations ahead of schedule. The explosions around the airport on Thursday confirm that the risk was real. But who is behind this new threat?
Almost all eyes are on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-J), a Daesh affiliate based on Afghan soil and a staunch rival of the Taliban. At the head of this group is Shahab al Muhajir, also know as Sanaullah, considered an Arab expert in urban guerrilla warfare and apparently the mastermind of some of the ISKP’s most sophisticated operations, according to Europa Press (Ep). Some sources suggest that he was previously linked to Al Qaida.
Founded in 2015, in full expansion of the ‘caliphate’ that then led Abu Bakr al BaghdadiThe Islamic State-Khorasan drew on disenchanted Taliban, Afghan and Pakistani alike, recruiting from the many armed groups in the region.
It is estimated that at its peak, in 2016, it had between 2,500 and 8,500 fighters, although the continuous counterterrorism operations of the Afghan Army with air support and US special forces reduced this number at the end of 2019 to between 2,000 and 4,000 , and reduced its presence essentially to the provinces of Nangarhar, where it emerged, and Kunar, both bordering Pakistan, includes the aforementioned agency.
Between 2015 and 2021, ISKP has lost six of its leaders, the first four in bombings and the last two because they have been detained. So far, five of the group’s six leaders were Pakistanis – three former members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, the Pakistani Taliban) – and a Taliban defector.
According to the latest report from the UN’s monitoring and analysis team for sanctions against Al Qaida and Islamic State, on July 22, despite “the territorial, leadership, personnel and financial losses suffered during 2020 in the provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar”, this Daesh affiliate “has moved to other provinces, such as Nuristan, Badghis, Sari Pul, Baghlan, Badakhsán, Kunduz and Kabul, where the combatants have formed sleeper cells ”.
The document states that the group “has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul, where it commits most of its attacks, targeting minorities, activists, government employees and personnel of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.”
In this sense, he points out that he recently “claimed responsibility for the brutal attack on June 8, in which 10 humanitarian deminers working with the HALO Trust – a British-American organization dedicated to the removal of mines – were killed in Baghlan province and injured. 16 ».
It also indicates that, in “its efforts to rebuild itself,” the Islamic State-Khorasan has given priority to recruiting and training new supporters. ” Its leaders, the UN group points out, hope to attract “intransigent Taliban and other militants who reject the Agreement for Peace in Afghanistan” reached in February 2020 between the US and the Taliban and which led to the exit. American from the country, as well as recruiting fighters from Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones.
Estimates of ISIL-J’s strength vary markedly by source. While a member state figures them in between 500 and 1,500 combatants, another points out that they can reach 10,000 in the medium term.
Shahab al Muhajir, the branch leader, cooperates with the Sheik Tamim, who runs the office of Al SadiqAccording to this report, which ensures that the Daesh nucleus “has entrusted Tamim and his office with the supervision of the network that connects ISIL-J with ISIL presences in the region.”
The target of the attacks of the Islamic State-Khorasan in these years have been mainly the country’s authorities and the security forces, but also minorities such as the Hazara, Shiites, whom it has attacked repeatedly causing real massacres, indicates Ep.
In the last year, following the aforementioned agreement between the US and the Taliban and the start of talks between the Afghan government and the latter, ISIL-J focused all its efforts on trying to torpedo the possibility of a peace agreement after decades. conflict in the country.
Islamic State spared no criticism of the 2020 agreement that established the US commitment to withdraw its troops, and which is finally being fulfilled under the mandate of Joe Biden, in exchange for the insurgents’ promise that Afghanistan would not be used as a rearguard to launch terrorist attacks against the West.
The group’s spokesperson, Abú Hamza al Qurashi, denounced that the agreement was a cover for the “current alliance between the Taliban apostates and the crusaders to fight the Islamic State,” and sought to “establish a national government” that would unite this group with others that it also branded as apostates.
The “false Taliban victory”
After the Taliban victory on August 15, the Islamic State has once again disparaged the achievement of the group founded in its day by the mullah omar. In an editorial in its magazine ‘Al Naba’, the terrorist group considers this to be a “false victory”. “The United States has restored the government of the Taliban and granted Kabul without firing a single shot,” he says. It also calls into question their willingness to truly apply sharia in the country.
In recent years, Carlos Igualada and Javier Yagüe emphasize in an article published by the International Observatory for Terrorism Studies (OIET) cited by Ep, the main ISIL-J terrorist attacks have occurred in Kabul and with the civilian population as the target. outstanding.
Thus, “the possibility should not be ruled out that members of the organization try to further volatilize the unstable and difficult situation at the Kabul airport with some terrorist action that unleashes complete chaos,” they underline.
“The same may happen in the coming months, as they will try to sabotage any attempt by the Taliban to impose their government,” they predict, recalling that the establishment of the Islamic State in Afghanistan “has never been easy,” since much of the The population sees in its combatants «one more invading enemy».
In this way, a possible situation now arises between the Taliban and the members of the Islamic State-Khorasan: the former trying to trip the new regime and the latter seeking to attack ISIL-J and take advantage of the victory to capture their fighters.