By Wajahat Khalid – May 02, 2019 (Updated on May 18, 2019)
On 15 May 2019, the Islamic State or Daesh announced the creation of its province in Pakistan, just days after it had declared the establishment of Hind province through its propaganda mouthpiece Amaq news agency. Previously, these divisions fell under Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). The ISKP or Wilayat Khorasan was created over four years back on Jan 26, 2015. The ISKP consisted of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of India and Iran. Announcing the creation of ISKP back in 2015, Daesh spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani had nominated Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander, as the head of Wilayat Khorasan. The Long War Journal reported that the ISKP consisted of a core group of 12 members – nine of them Pakistanis and the rest Afghans.
The TTP had lost territories in Pakistan’s erstwhile FATA region following the operations by Pakistan army. Disarrayed, the TTP infrastructure cracked as many TTP commanders broke free from the outfit. The breakup was announced in a video message by TTP’s ex-spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. Later, these “disenchanted” TTP elements became the pioneers of ISKP. The group was primarily focused on Afghanistan, but eventually it had to turn its guns on Pakistan since the group’s founding commanders were predominately Pakistanis.
The fact that many TTP elements of Pakistani nationality spearheaded the establishment of the ISKP is nothing short of a nightmare for the law enforcement agencies in Pakistan because those who founded the Wilayat Khorasan chapter are well acquainted with the security landscape in Pakistan. They know the country well, and have influence with local people, tribes, and other terror groups operating in the country. These factors enhance their likelihood of establishing a support base in the country. According to a research in Sep 2016 by Tariq Pervez, former NACTA chief, some members of ISKP are allegedly linked to the Lal Masjid which is believed to serve as a networking point for various extremist groups and seminaries in the country.
Over a year after the ISKP’s creation, its founding commander Hafiz Saeed Khan was killed in an American drone strike in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar. His death was announced by a Pentagon spokesman on July 26, 2016. Khan was succeeded by Maulvi Abdul Haseeb. Pakistan designated Daesh as a terrorist group in 2015. However, it has not joined the ‘Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’. So far, members of the following Pakistan-based terrorist groups have, at various points, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State:
- Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
- Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)
- Jamaat-ul-Ahraar (JuA)
- Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ)
- Jundullah Pakistan
The ISKP has not been able to demonstrate a strong command and control infrastructure in Pakistan so far. However, it has claimed responsibility for some deadly terrorist attacks in the country in the past few years. The group has carried out attacks in KP and Balochistan, while in Sindh it targeted Sehwan Sharif – a Sufi shrine – in 2017 that left 90 people dead and over 300 wounded. Daesh ideology has inspired people and groups to recruit, raise funds, and carry out attacks in Pakistan. With religious extremism running deep in Pakistani society, the increasing presence of Daesh is worrying for Pakistan’s security agencies. Its extremist Salafist ideology is likely to attract existing and prospective militants who believe in violence against the Shiite Muslims, the Pakistani state, and Western interests. Many extremist groups find Daesh’s goal of creating a pious Islamic caliphate inspiring.
Initial Denials and Vague Stances
The government stance on the presence of Daesh has largely been marked by confusion or vagueness since at least 2015. Statements by government officials and reports by local media on the presence and activities of Daesh have been contradicting each other for years. The government either lacks a coherent stance on the issue or it deliberately downplays the threat for security reasons. In Feb 2016, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Aftab Sultan warned about the Daesh threat in Pakistan only to be refuted by the interior and foreign ministries. Sultan told the Senate that Daesh was an emerging security threat because many Pakistani-based terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah Sahaba and others had soft corner for the group. He further added that IB had busted an IS network in Punjab following the Safoora Goth massacre in Karachi in May 2015.
The next day, the Foreign Office spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, contradicted the IB chief, saying there was no organized presence of what he called “the Middle Eastern group” in Pakistan. Few days later, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, also downplayed the IB chief’s warning. Nisar claimed that local terrorist groups were building their profiles by using Daesh’s name, and that there was no Daesh presence in Pakistan. Earlier in Nov 2015, the army spokesman, General Asim Bajwa, had declared that Pakistan had zero tolerance for Daesh. A report by the UK-based Royal United Services Institute in Feb 2016 estimated that around 2000-3000 active Daesh members were based in Pakistan.
Despite the confusion, however, the Pakistani media have reported Daesh activities in many cities in Pakistan including Lahore, Sialkot, and Karach, Quetta, Mastung etc. A column titled “Miss Leading” in the Urdu daily Khabrain on 12 Feb 2016 said:
“The recruitment of women in terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh in the name of Islam is creating problems for the Law-enforcement agencies. Recently a group of women was arrested from Karachi, which was motivating innocent girls to become wives of the jihadists of terrorist groups. One of them was the wife of Khalid Bari who was running a religious seminary for women and was brainwashing young girls by showing them videos of ISIS and creating sympathies for ISIS fighters in order to convince these girls to marry members of ISIS”.
Likewise, another piece by Haider Javed Sayyed in the Urdu daily Khabrain of 27 Jan 2017 mentioned Daesh activities in Pakistan. Titled “Sir, the ISIS threat is increasing”, the column had this to say:
“At last the Interior Ministry has admitted that the ISIS does exist in Pakistan, but they have not admitted the full truth. The members of banned jihadi groups are joining ISIS for rupees 30,000-50,000 per month. Other incentives include: a new war front where plenty of beautiful girls from Syria and other countries would become their jihadist wives. According to a new fatwa (religious decree) of Muradul Najeeb Basri, a jihadist can just say nikah three times when he likes a woman and that woman will become his wife. More than 800 members of LeJ, JeM, and LeT have joined the ISIS. The ISIS conducted its activities in extreme secrecy in the country.”
Daesh terror in Pakistan
July 2014: The Iraq-based Jamaat Ansar ul-Islam releases a video of their militant training camp in Syria in July 2014. Dozens of men, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and a few anti-aircraft guns, are put through military drills. The terrorist training camps is named after Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the radical cleric who was killed in 2007 after the security agencies conducted an operation on Lal Masjid.
Oct 2014: The Sindh Home Department reports that Abid Kohat, a resident of Rawalpindi, has been recruited by Daesh to reach out to disgruntled elements of Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as TTP, Sipah Sahaba, JeM etc and set up an office in Rawalpindi.
Oct 2014: The Balochistan Home Department writes a letter to senior officials, warning about Daesh activities in Pakistan. The letter claims that Daesh has gained 10-12 thousand followers in Hangu and Kurram agencies. It also warns about Daesh’s plans to attack the Shiite community.
Dec 2014: A group of female students from a seminary in Islamabad declare their allegiance to Daesh in a video recording, and vow to avenge the security operation against the Lal Masjid. In the same month, police in Karachi detain six women for recruiting jihadist brides for Daesh. Many of them were the wives of the suspects of Safoora Goth massacre.
Jan 2015: Daesh announces the creation of its chapter for Khorasan region that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of Iran in Jan 2015. The allegiance to Daesh was announced by ex-TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid in a recorded video message.
Mar 2015: Graffiti supporting Daesh and the terror group’s trademark black banners start appearing in several cities in Pakistan in Mar 2015.
May 2015: Eight heavily armed terrorists ambush a bus carrying Ismaili-Shiites in Safoora Goth in Karachi in May 2015, killing at least 46 and injuring 13. Daesh claimed its militants targeted Shiite infidels in the attack. Another terrorist group Jandullah also claimed responsibility for the carnage.
July 2015: Punjab police kill LeJ chief Malik Ishaq and eleven of his accomplices in a shootout in Muzaffargarh in July 2015. Reports suggest Ishaq was about to announce his allegiance to Daesh kingpin Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi.
Nov 2015: Unidentified gunmen throw grenades into the offices of Dunya TV and Din News in Faisalabad and Lahore respectively in Nov 2015. While no one was killed or injured, Daesh pamphlets were found from both crime scenes.
Dec 2015: The Punjab Counter-terrorism Department (CTD) raids a house in Sialkot and nabs nine suspected militants affiliated with Daesh in Dec 2015. Following the security raid, Daesh Sialkot sent a message to media houses, threatening to overthrow the government. It identified the arrested people as members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The suspects were actively recruiting militants and arranging funds for Daesh in Pakistan. The CTD officials claimed the men were in contact with Abu Muavia Salafi, a Pakistani Daesh terrorist in Syria, via Skype. The CTD further said they had credible intelligence that six young boys from Sialkot, who had been reported missing earlier, were killed in the fighting in Syria.
Jan 2016: Pakistan authorities launch a crackdown to nab Daesh members and sympathizers in Punjab and Sindh in Jan 2016. Punjab’s law minister reveals that over 100 people had left to fight alongside terrorist groups in the Middle East. Three women and twelve children go missing from Lahore. Later, one of the women sends a voice message to her husband in Pakistan, confirming that she and other women were in Syria where her son was fighting for Daesh.
May 2016: A military court hands down death sentences to Saad Aziz and four others in May 2016 in 18 cases including the Safoora Goth massacre and assassination of rights activist Sabin Mehmood. According to authorities, Aziz, a graduate of Pakistan’s top business school, was inspired by Daesh and Al-Qaeda. He was also charged with an attempt to murder Debra Lobo, an American educationist and vice principal of Jinnah Medical and Dental College, Karachi.
Jul 2016: Hafiz Saeed Khan, head of the Wilayat Khorasan chapter, is killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan in July 2016. Khan had defected from TTP to establish the Wilayat Khorasan chapter of Daesh.
Aug 2016: The president of Quetta Bar Association is killed on 8 Aug 2016. When his body is brought to a hospital, a suicide bomber blows himself up, killing 93 people mostly lawyers and media persons. Daesh claims responsibility for the attack.
Sep 2016: The first major admission about Daesh presence comes from Pakistan army in Sep 2016. General Asim Bajwa, a former military spokesperson, admits that Daesh has a presence in Pakistan. He says over 300 people, including foreign nationals, have been arrested in connection with Daesh. He reveals that authorities had thwarted Daesh’s plans to attack foreign embassies and the airport in Islamabad.
Oct 2016: A Pakistani intelligence officer, Akbar Ali, is gunned down by unidentified motorcyclists in Charsadda on 24 Oct 2016. Later, Daesh claims responsibility for the killing.
Oct 2016: Three heavily armed terrorists storm a training college of Balochistan police in Quetta on 24 Oct 2016, killing 61 cadets and injuring 165 others. Daesh claims responsibility for the attack. The LeJ also claims to have worked with Daesh to carry out the deadly assault on the police. Pakistan authorities said the attackers came from Afghanistan, and were facilitated by local handlers.
Nov 2016: Terrorists attack the crowded shrine of Shah Noorani in the Lasbela district of Balochistan on 12 Nov 2016, killing at least 62 Sufi worshippers and injuring over 100. Daesh claimed responsibility, saying its fighters targeted the Shiite worshippers.
Dec 2016: Daesh claims responsibility for killing a police officer and injuring his son in Peshawar on 10 Dec 2016.
Feb 2017: Daesh pamphlets are distributed in the volatile Kurram Agency in Feb 2017. The pamphlets show beheadings and warn that Daesh would soon start operations in Hangu and DI Khan areas of Pakistan after its success in neighboring Afghanistan.
Feb 2017: The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh is hit by a suicide bombing on 16 Feb 2017. As the followers of Sufi Islam were busy in a dance ritual at the shrine in evening, a bomber blew up his suicide vest, killing over 100 people and injuring more than 300. The ISKP claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
March 2017: Five terrorists, including a Daesh commander, are killed in an intelligence based operation (IBO) in Orakzai Agency on 21 Mar 2017. Daesh was planning to target the Shia Nauroz (New Year) festivals.
Apr 2017: Pakistani security personnel raid a home in Lahore and arrest Noreen Leghari and seize suicide vests, grenades, and bullets on 4 Apr 2017. A medical student at the Liaqat Medical University, Leghari was to be used by Daesh as a terrorist to bomb a church on Easter in Pakistan. An intelligence tipoff led to her arrest and pre-empted what could have been a deadly attack against the Christians. Reportedly, Leghari was inspired and recruited by Daesh through the internet.
May 2017: A Chinese couple is kidnapped from the Jinnah Town area of Quetta city on 24 May 2017. Police say the couple was forced into a vehicle and driven away by armed kidnappers. The Chinese couple reportedly ran a Chinese-language training center in the provincial capital. A month after the abduction, Daesh claims it had killed the couple.
June 2017: Pakistan security forces kill 12 terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami (LeJA) near Mastung in Balochistan in a 3-day operation from June 1-3. Briefing the media, the army spokesman says the terrorists were Daesh facilitators. The security operation denied Daesh presence in Pakistan, the spokesman adds.
Aug 2017: Pakistan army launches Operation Khyber 4 in the Rajgal valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Aug 2017. The operation involves 3000 troops to comb the area. According to reports, TTP, JuA, and Lashkar-e-Islami were teaming up with Daesh in the Rajgal valley.
Dec 2017: Two suicide bombers storm a church ahead of the Christmas in Quetta on 16 Dec 2017, killing at least 9 worshippers and injuring dozens others. Daesh claims responsibility through its Amaq news channel, claiming that two of its militants had stormed the church.
July 2018: Daesh claims responsibility for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s history. A suicide bomber strikes a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party ahead of the general elections in Mastung area of Balochistan on 13 July 2018, leaving at least 150 people dead and 186 wounded. Daesh claims responsibility via its Amaq and identifies the bomber as Abu Bakar Al-Pakistani.
July 2018: Pakistani security forces kill Daesh’s Balochistan chief, Mufti Hidayatullah on 19 July 2018, on a tipoff from intelligence agencies. Hidayatullah was believed to have masterminded the Mastung attack a week earlier that left 150 people dead.
July 2018: A suicide bomber hits a polling station on the day of Pakistan’s general elections on July 25, 2018. The attack kills 31 people and injured 35 others. Daesh claims responsibility via its Amaq website.
Sep 2018: On 26 Sep 2018, law enforcement personnel including commandos raid a compound in Mangochar area of Balochistan where, according to intelligence reports, multiple terrorists (believed to be affiliated with Daesh) were holding some men, women, and children hostage. The raid leaves the three armed terrorists dead. Two security personnel were also killed in the gunbattle.
Nov 2018: A suicide attack kills 33 people and inures 56 others in the Orakzai district of KP on 23 Nov 2018. The attack is later claimed by Daesh through a video message.
Apr 2019: A bomb blast in a fruit market in the suburb of Quetta city kills 20 people and injures 48 on 12 Apr 2019. Eight of the victims belonged to the Hazara Shiite community. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
May 2019: On 17 May 2019, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Balochistan raid a Daesh hideout in Qabu Koh-e-Mehran area of Mastung, 47 kilometers from Quetta city on the basis of an intelligence tipoff. The raid kills at least nine Daesh terrorists and leaves four security men wounded. The bodies of the terrorists are shifted to the Civil Hospital Quetta. The police also seize arms, ammunition, and suicide vests from the site.