From suicide bombings to brutal executions: Key things to know about ISIS-K behind Kabul airport
ISIS-K or Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks on the Kabul airport, which killed scores including Afghans trying to leave Afghanistan and at least 13 US service members. Islamic State said a suicide bomber "managed to reach a large gathering of translators and collaborators with the American army at 'Baran Camp' near Kabul Airport and detonated his explosive belt among them, killing about 60 people and wounding more than 100 others, including Taliban fighters."
Reports have said that ISIS-K, the regional affiliate of ISIS or Islamic State that is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, had long planned attacks on American personnel and others. The Taliban condemned the blasts outside the Kabul airport on Thursday.
What is ISIS-K?
ISIS-K is named after an old term for the region now lying in northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan and first appeared in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014 and quickly established a reputation for extreme brutality. It was founded by hardline elements of the Pakistani Taliban who fled into Afghanistan when Pakistan security forces cracked down on them, according to some experts on Islamist militancy in the region.
US intelligence officials have earlier told CNN the ISIS-K membership includes "a small number of veteran jihadists from Syria and other foreign terrorist fighters,". They have said that the US had identified 10 to 15 of their top operatives in Afghanistan.
What's their location?
The group has built up a presence in eastern Afghanistan in recent years, especially in the provinces of Nangahar and Kunar. ISIS-K has formed cells in Kabul which have carried out a number of devastating suicide attacks in and beyond the Afghan capital since 2016. ISIS-K, which was initially confined to a small number of areas on the border with Pakistan, has established a second major front in northern provinces including Jawzjan and Faryab.
ISIS-K includes Pakistanis from other militant groups and Uzbek extremists in addition to Afghans, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point said.
How did it strengthen its position?
US intelligence officials have said that the movement used the instability that led to the collapse of the Western-backed government in Afghanistan earlier this month to strengthen its position and step up recruitment of disenfranchised Taliban members.
"ISIS-Khorasan exploited the political instability and rise in violence during the quarter by attacking minority sectarian targets and infrastructure to spread fear and highlight the Afghan government's inability to provide adequate security," the US defense department inspector general for Afghanistan (SIGAR) said in a report.
Are they linked to the Taliban?
While ISIS and the Taliban are both hardline Sunni Islamist terrorists, they are rivals and oppose each other. ISIS-K have major differences with the Taliban and accuse them of abandoning Jihad and the battlefield in favour of a negotiated peace settlement hammered out in "posh hotels" in Doha, Qatar.
According to the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, their differences are also ideological. "The hostility between the two groups arose both from ideological differences and competition for resources. IS accused the Taliban of drawing its legitimacy from a narrow ethnic and nationalistic base, rather than a universal Islamic creed," the center said.
Also watch | Inside 10 days of Taliban rule: Living in fear amid pockets of resistance
The Associated Press has reported that as the Taliban sought to negotiate with the US in recent years, many of those opposed to these talks switched over to the more extremist Islamic State.
Researchers have said that there are strong links between ISIS-K and the Haqqani network, which in turn is closely linked to the Taliban. "Several major attacks between 2019 and 2021 involved collaboration between ISIS-K, the Taliban's Haqqani Network and other terror groups based in Pakistan," Dr Sajjan Gohel from the Asia Pacific Foundation told the BBC.
What have they targeted?
ISIS-K has carried out a series of suicide bombings in Kabul and other cities against both government and foreign military targets. Experts have said these were aimed at establishing their credentials as a more violent and extreme militant movement.
From the executions of village elders to the killings of Red Cross workers and suicide attacks on crowds, including a series of bloody suicide operations against targets associated with the Shi'ite minority, have been blamed on the group.
Among its recent targets was a Sufi mosque, electrical pylons and fuel tankers and Shi'ite bus passengers in Kabul. US officials also believe an attack on a girls school for the mainly Shi'ite Hazara minority was the work of ISIS-K.
(With agency inputs)