The Islamic State 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.
IS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani announced the expansion of the so-called caliphate to Khurasan in a message and a video posted on jihadi forums earlier this week. He named former Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hafiz Saeed Khan, 42, as the “wali” or governor of Khurasan.
The move comes barely four months after al Qaeda announced the formation of a new wing for the Indian subcontinent. 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.
Security analysts said Indian authorities would have 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.
“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,” said Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies.
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-Adnani said: “…we bring the mujahidin the good news of the Islamic State’s expansion to Khurasan (a region encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nearby lands).”
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-Adnani called on all mujahidin to “join the caravan of the Khilafah 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.
Former TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid and commanders Daulat Khan, Fateh Gul Zaman and Mufti Hassan have also joined the IS.