The Islamic State group is increasing its presence in Pakistan, recruiting Uzbek militants, attracting disgruntled Taliban fighters and partnering with one of Pakistan’s most violent sectarian groups, according to police officers, Taliban officials and analysts.
Its latest atrocity was an attack yesterday on a Sufi shrine in southwestern Pakistan that killed at least 50 people and wounded 100 others. The group said in a statement that a suicide bomber attacked the shrine with the intent of killing Shiite Muslims and issued a picture of the attacker.
When IS circulated a photograph of one of the attackers in last month’s deadly assault on a police academy in southwestern Baluchistan province, two Taliban officials told The Associated Press that the attacker was an Uzbek, most likely a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
More than 60 people, most of them police recruits, were killed in that October 26 attack when three assailants battled security forces for hours before being killed or detonating their suicide vests.
The Taliban officials, both of whom are familiar with the IMU, spoke on condition of anonymity because their leadership has banned them from talking to the media.
Authorities initially said the police academy attack was orchestrated by militants hiding out in Afghanistan and blamed Pakistan’s virulently anti-Shiite group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. But IS later claimed responsibility and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi spokesman Ali Bin Sufyan said they partnered with IS to carry out the assault.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the extremist group has adopted the name the Islamic State in Khorasan - a reference to an ancient geographical region that encompassed a vast swath of territory stretching from Turkmenistan through Iran and Afghanistan.
IS in Khorasan has set up its base in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, and while it has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, it remains unclear whether there are direct operational or financial links between the two.
According to police, Afghan officials and IS media outlets, the majority of Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan are Pakistani nationals, mostly from the tribal regions.
Disgruntled Taliban fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan have joined along with foreign fighters, mainly from central Asia. The group’s leader until his death in July in a drone strike was Hafiz Saeed Khan, a former Pakistani Taliban commander. IS has never acknowledged Khan’s death, which was confirmed by both the Afghan and US militaries.