Men with long beards, wearing shalwar kameez, armed with pistols and daggers… they were 12 of them. One teenage boy was clad in trousers and T-shirt. Some of them had their faces covered with balaclavas while the faces of others were blurred. A few of them were still identifiable. They were carrying two flags, one of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the other of the Sympathisers of Islamic State Within Pakistan.
This seven minute and twenty-nine seconds long video in Arabic, the language of the self-declared IS caliphate, was first aired in Pakistan by Geo TV. It also contained a short audio clip of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of IS.
Two men were displaying a banner of Tariq Shiraz alias Abu Musa Training Camp. He was a Danish citizen of Pakistani origin and was killed last year on September 25. In a video with The News, recorded before his death, he urged Pakistanis to stand against the democratic form of government, which he believed was un-Islamic.
For the first time in July this year, Tehreek-e-Khilafat Jihad, pledged allegiance to the IS. This organisation claimed the responsibility of a failed suicide attack in Karachi on Brig. Basit Shuja, the Sector Commander of Abdullah Shah Ghazi Rangers, on February 14 this year.
Around the same time, Al-Ansar Media, the propaganda wing of Jamaat-ul-Ansar-ul-Islam, released a 30 minute-long video of a militant training camp in Syria. Ansar-ul-Islam is a militant outfit, initially operating in Syria and now in Iraq as well. The camp was named after the slain Pakistani prayer leader of famous Lal Masjid, Abdur Rasheed Ghazi. Dozens of highly-trained militants, armed with rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), anti-aircraft guns, light-machine guns (LMGs) and sub-machine guns (SMGs), demonstrated their expertise in the video.
Before the release of this IS video, some television channels and newspapers showed graffiti of the IS in Karachi and the Home Department of Balochistan and Sindh issued warnings against the formation of the IS Pakistan wing.
On October 9, reportedly Home Department Sindh issued an Information Report numbered 572. The letter stated, “Abid Kohat, resident of Kahuta, District Rawalpindi had been associated with the TTP in past. Recently, Abid Kohat met with Waleed Al-Ama of Uzbekistan who is working for Daesh (ISIS) in Pakistan and Abid Kohat was offered to become the Ameer of Daesh (ISIS) in Pakistan and asked to contact with annoyed activists of TTP, SSP and Jaish-e-Mohammad to join ISIS. It is also reported that 3-4 months month ago Abid Kohat and Waleed Al-ama held a meeting with two individuals who are ATBs (Afghan Training Boys) and asked them to find a suitable place around Raiwind Markaz to establish the office of ISIS Pakistan chapter”.
In another move, on October 31, the Home Department of Balochistan issued a letter that warned about the recruitment of foot soldier for the IS Pakistan chapter. The letter reads, “It is reliably learnt that Daesh has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. Daesh has also formed a ten member ‘Strategic Planning Wing’. They are now planning to inflict casualties to Pakistan Army outfits who are taken part in operation Zarb-e-Azb. Moreover, Daesh claims to have gathered 10-12 thousand followers from Hangu and Kurram Agency. They intend to carry out multifaceted attacks on LEAs and seizure of important government installations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Daesh desires to assign Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for offensives against people belonging to Ahl-e-Tashi sect in Pakistan which will fuel sectarian outrage in Pakistan”.
Several intelligence and counter-terrorism officials are of the opinion that the LeJ is the closest ally of the IS in Pakistan because both militant outfits share anti-Shia sentiments. Also, they say, because of its strong network in urban centres, the LeJ is the primary organisation providing information and logistical support to militant outfits in Karachi, including al-Qaeda, TTP, IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and Jandullah.
At the same time they maintain that, unlike IS, the LeJ has not demanded the establishment of khilafat in the region.
The former director general of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Tariq Parvez says, “It is the beginning of another form of militancy and its agenda will be global rather than local. They will dispatch foot soldiers to Iraq and Syria. They will return home as monsters, like after the Cold War and the fall of Afghanistan in 2002. And, following the foot-prints of al-Qaeda, the IS will outsource its terror plots in Pakistan. It’s local franchises, like the LeJ will gladly provide all the assistance”.
Also read: Making and breaking of IS
A study by Voices from the Blogs, a company set up by academics of the Milan University, carried out between July 1, 2014 and October 22, 2014, reveals the countries with the highest levels of social media support for the IS were Qatar, 47 per cent, and Pakistan, 35 per cent.
Some experts believe that Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi is Salafist and a majority of militant organisations in Pakistan belong to the Deoband school of thought. Al-Baghdadi, they say, started his jihadi career under the command of Abu-Musab al-Zarqavi who was a Deobandi. They also say the IS is fighting with Jabhat-ul-Nusra, an al-Qaeda branch in Syria. But this claim seems absurd because the IS is basically an off-shoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
According to them, most of the terror outfits in Pakistan, including al-Qaeda (with former chief Osama Bin Ladin and its current head Aiman al-Zawahiri) have pledged their allegiance to Afghan Taliban ameer Mullah Omar. Therefore, Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP and Umar Khalid Khorasani’s TTP-JA (Jamat-ul-Ahraar) will not opt to pledge their allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Both the groups are reportedly operating from Afghanistan. They cannot annoy Afghan Taliban who can create mess for them as they did in the past for Mullah Fazlullah.
Abu Omar Maqbool al-Khurasani, also known as Shahidullah Shahid, the former TTP spokesman, along with his five commanders, Hafiz Saeed Khan (ameer of TTP Orakzai Agency), Hafiz Daulat Khan (ameer of TTP Kurram Agency), Maulana Gul Zaman (ameer of TTP Khyber Agency), Mufti Hassaan (ameer of TTP Peshawar) and Khalid Mansoor (ameer of TTP Hangu) announced support for the IS.
However, the TTP Shura sacked Shahidullah Shahid, and its current ameer, Mullah Fazlullah alias Mullah Radio, once gain pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar.
Commenting on the formation of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), an intelligence official says a large number of hardcore al-Qaeda Arab militants have left Fata for Iraq to join the IS. “Due to the fear of losing its clout on jihadi sphere, AQIS was created. There is not a single Arab in AQIS”.
Al-Qaeda head Ayman al- Zawahiri announced the formation of AQIS on September 3. He appointed Maulana Asim Umar as the first ameer of AQIS, a former student of Madarssa-e-Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia in Karachi and Darul Uloom Haqannia, Akora Khattak, KPK.
The head of Crime Investigation Department (CID) Counter Terrorism Unit, Raja Umar Khattab admits that people from Pakistan went to wage jihad in Syria — “During our investigation, we discovered that some of their accomplices had taken part in the war in Syria. That was before the formation of the IS. Presently, I do not know if this business is still running,” he says.
Tariq Parvez who established the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police believes that the current situation in Pakistan is vulnerable — “There are youngsters that are dissatisfied with the policies of their bosses. These young field commanders and foot soldiers of the terrorist organisations can discover new avenue in the form of ISIS. But they will not carry out attacks inside Pakistan; they will prefer to recruit foot soldiers for Iraq and Syria”.
Intelligence officials deny any tangible presence of the IS in Pakistan.
After the rumours of his death in an airstrike near Diyala, Iraq, al-Baghdadi released a 16 minute and 57 seconds audio speech. Interestingly in the speech, he accepted the so-called acknowledged allegiance pledged by various militant groups from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya and Algeria. He urged these groups to carry out attacks in their respective Muslim countries including Egypt. Interestingly, he did not acknowledge TTP’s former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid along with his five commanders who have announced their support for the IS. Al-Baghdadi did not even name Pakistan in the speech.
It shows the IS is focused on the Arab peninsula. Most of the hardcore and ideologically motivated foot soldiers joining its ranks are coming from these countries.
Regarding the wall chalkings, posters, handbills and booklets, Tariq Parvez says, “These are distributed by the pro-IS groups to pave way for the IS formation in Pakistan. The government should neutralise these IS sympathisers and weed out the potential threat with a counter narrative involving ministry of Youth Affairs, Women Development and Religious Affair”.