The Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), a regional affiliate of ISIS in Afghanistan, appeared on the global map on Thursday after it struck in the heart of Kabul with bombings outside Hamid Karzai International Airport and Baron Hotel. At least 72 civilians, 13 American troops and 28 Taliban were killed in this carnage.
The ISK was quick to claim this attack, saying its suicide bombers singled out “translators and collaborators with the American army.”
Here is what we know about the ISK so far:
The group was formed in 2014 and operates as an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its founding members include militants who left both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban.
Security experts say the group emerged after ISIS sent representatives to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, who were able to win over some disaffected Pakistani Taliban and a few Afghan Taliban.
Hafiz Saeed Khan, the group’s leader in 2015, released a video in which he pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then the Islamic State’s leader. He also declared ISK to be the new administrators ISIS territory in Afghanistan. Khan was killed in 2016 in a US drone attack; Baghdadi died in 2019 after he set off an explosive vest during a raid by US forces.
The group has since become known for public executions, killing of tribal elders and closing down schools, according to the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. The group has claimed responsibility for a string of high-profile attacks, including the May bombing of a girls’ school in Kabul.
Experts suggest the Afghan Taliban and the ISK have been at odds with each other, especially since the Taliban took over in Kabul. President Joe Biden described the two as ‘enemies’ in his televised address on Thursday.
Many Taliban militants defected to join ISK and the two groups fight for resources and territory. Some experts suggest their differences are also ideological. ISK accuses the Taliban of drawing its legitimacy from a narrow ethnic and nationalistic base, rather than a universal Islamic creed, security experts say. They say many Taliban militants were opposed to talks with the United States and joined ISK when the Taliban leadership began negotiations.
UN experts believe the affiliate has around 2,000 fighters in eastern and northern Afghanistan. They also say that group has had to ‘decentralize’ after significant territorial losses.
Despite this, General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, in his remarks on Thursday described the threat from ISIS as “extremely real” and that there were other active threats against the airfield in Kabul.