A growing cabal of former mid-level Pakistani Taliban commanders and officials have again pledged allegiance (bayat) to the Islamic State and recognized Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as Commander of the Faithful and the Caliph of Muslims. The pledge is part of a push by the Islamic State to expand its profile beyond Iraq and Syria, where the jihadist group controls large areas of both countries.
The oath is featured in a nearly 17-minute video which first appeared in the online jihadist forums on Jan. 10 by the newly created “Khorasan Media” group, and includes footage of a gruesome execution of a purportedly captured Pakistani soldier. Although the video was released in January, given the appearance of mild temperatures and lack of snow cover in the mountains in what is presumably western Pakistan, it was most likely produced a few months ago, possibly in October 2014, not long after the group’s first pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State.
The titular mouthpiece of the group is former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Sheikh Maqbool, better known as his former nom de guerre “Shahid Shahidullah.” Maqbool introduces Hafez Saeed Khan as the overall emir of the Khorasan Shura. Khan had previously served as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s emir for the tribal agency of Arakzai.
In October, both Maqbool and Hafez Saeed Khan pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, along with Hafiz Dolat Khan from Kurram, Maulana Gul an Fateh from Khyber, Mufti Hassan Swati from Peshawar, and Khalid Mansoor from Hangu.
The latest video from January includes pledges of allegiance to the Islamic State from these same individuals as well as from several others. The new additions include:
- Omar Mansoor, who is mentioned as being associated with Pakistan’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad.
- Sa’ad al-Emrati, representing the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) faction called the Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas Front in Logar province, Afghanistan.
- Obaidullah Peshawari, representing Tawad al Jihad from Peshawar, Pakistan.
- Jawad, representing the Abtalul Islam (Heroes of Islam) Foundation, a jihadist media group focused on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in early July 2014.
- Sheikh Muhsin, representing Kunar province, Afghanistan.
- Talha, representing Lakki Marwat district, Pakistan.
Maqbool insisted that several jihadists in Afghanistan’s Kabul and Kunduz provinces, as well as many others in Pakistan, including Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, had also given their consent that Hafiz Saeed Khan be nominated the emir for the Khorasan Shura. Maqbool specified that “problems with the roadways” had prevented other representatives from attending the shura and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in person. He listed these other groups and individuals as:
- The Qamber (Kamber/Kambar) Kheyl tribe in Khyber Agency, Pakistan (the Kambar Kheyl is an Afridi sub-tribe).
- Gul Baleah (Balay/Bali) from Bajaur Agency, Pakistan.
- “Hudhayfah” (Huzaifa) from Dir, Pakistan.
- Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who was detained at Guantanamo for three years and had previously sworn allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Dost’s oath of allegiance was issued on July 1, 2014. [See Long War Journal report, Ex-Gitmo ‘poet’ now recruiting for the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan.]
- Ghulam Rasool from Waziristan, Pakistan.
- The Ansar al-Mujahideen from Waziristan.
- Qari Haroun (Haroon/Harun) from Kunar province, Afghanistan.
- Abu Abdullah from Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
The Khorasan Shura, while consisting of mostly low to mid-level former Pakistani Taliban militants, exemplifies the fractured status of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and highlights the competition between smaller and emerging militant groups in South Asia, some of which are seeking to align with the Islamic State brand.
Additionally, Sheikh Abu Yazid Abd al Qahir Khorasani, a well known Salafist preacher from Kunar province and creator of the Abtalul Islam (Heroes of Islam) Foundation, a radical web forum that praises jihad and martyrdom, had also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in July 2014. His purported deputy, Jawad, appears in the January 2015 video along with Hafiz Saeed Khan.
Prior to Maqbool and Hafiz Saeed Khan’s defection, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan splintered several times in 2014 after the death of its previous emir, Hakeemullah Mehsud. Two powerful branches from North and South Waziristan as well as a group from Mohmand and other agencies and districts in northwestern Pakistan formed their own factions due to a leadership dispute and infighting. US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that they estimate that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan lost more than 70 percent of its strength during the split [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]
Islamic State seeks global status
The Islamic State is in competition with al Qaeda to lead the global jihad, and has sought to expand its network and profile beyond Iraq and Syria, where the group’s leadership is based. Al Qaeda ejected the Islamic State from its fold in February 2014 after a yearlong leadership dispute over who controls the jihad in Syria. One month later, a group of nine low and mid-level al Qaeda leaders based in Afghanistan and Pakistan joined the Islamic State’s predecessor; one was later reported to have been killed in Iraq in August 2014. [See LWJ reports, Previously obscure al Qaeda leader responds to dissenters, and Islamic State leader who defected from al Qaeda reported killed in Mosul.]
In June 2014, the Islamic State declared the formation of a caliphate and appointed Baghdadi its emir. Since it announced the formation of the caliphate, the jihadist group has claimed that it has established wiliyats, or provinces, in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. [See LWJ report, Islamic State leader claims ‘caliphate’ has expanded in new audio message.]