International counterterrorism officials and independent experts have raised concerns that ISIS-K could get an additional boost from foreign fighters from militant outfits like ETIM and others
The US has declared the present chief of ISIS-K, Sanaullah Ghafari aka Shahab al-Muhajir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). The notification issued by the State Department on Monday said al-Muhajir, is ISIS-K’s current overall emir in Afghanistan.
He was appointed by the ISIS core to lead ISIS-K in June 2020 after his predecessor Zia-ul-Haq, also known as Abu Omar Khorasani, was captured last year in May by the special forces of the previous Afghan government. When The Taliban seized Kabul in August this year, they took control of the prison, freed hundreds of inmates, and killed Khorasani and eight other members of his terror group.
In a reminder that the battle remains bloody, the suicide bombers of ISIS-K attacked the Kabul airport on August 26 killing more than 200 Afghans and 13 US Marine soldiers.
The current chief Ghafari claimed responsibility. His two deputies, Sultan Aziz Azam alias Sultan Aziz and Maulawi Rajab alias Maulawi Rajab Salahudin, have also been declared as Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US. While Azam is the spokesperson of ISIS-K, Rajab plans ISIS-K’s attacks and operations.
The US Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism said in a statement that declaring these three as global terrorists, will help the law enforcement activities of US agencies and other relevant enforcement entities and governments.
“We will continue to use all levers of American power to target terrorists who plot operations to indiscriminately kill civilians around the world, and those who enable, facilitate, and finance their acts,” said the statement.
Taking to Twitter, the US State Department also posted an identity card of Sanaullah Ghafari, aka Shahab al-Muhajir and according to intelligence agencies, he's a graduate of the Kabul Polytechnic Institute. The former Afghan officials say the man now known as al-Muhajir received training in Pakistan from two different extremist groups based there, including the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
“Until 2015 he was an active member of Haqqani Network and got guidance and support from them. He has been on watchlist for years. He is an engineer by profession and his family lives in Pakistan. The NDS had interviewed all his relatives in Sheker Dara of Kabul,” said the former vice president of Afghanistan Amrullah Saleh in his Twitter post.
Interestingly Muhajir as a member of the Haqqani Network was also part of the Taliban. Senior Taliban officials have acknowledged this.
“Some of them openly opposing the Taliban, while some of them remain within the Taliban for their own interests, like enemies staying in the enemy's house and looking for an opportunity, 24/7,” one intelligence official told the Voice of America (VoA) adding that is why the US had asked the Taliban regime to fight together against the ISIS-K but the Taliban refused.
Although the Taliban has been playing down the ISIS-K danger in its statements, it also seems to be taking the ISIS-K threat very seriously with a series of raids targeting the group in recent days, and vowing that more will follow. The ISIS-K, on its part, has been launching fresh attacks in Afghanistan every day.
A UN report estimates that there are 2000-3000 fighters of ISIS-K fighters in Afghanistan.
International counterterrorism officials and independent experts have also raised concerns that ISIS-K could get an additional boost from foreign fighters from militant outfits like ETIM and others.
US officials believe that ISIS-K could develop the ability to strike outside of Afghanistan within six to 12 months and that al-Qaeda could do the same within one to two years. Early this month The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US military would, "remain focused on ISIS-K," acknowledging that the mission to counter ISIS-K and other groups would be "much harder now. But not impossible."
International pressure is also mounting on the Taliban to take action against the group.