Who are Isis-K and what does Isis-K stand for? The terror group’s role in Afghanistan crisis and relation to the Taliban, explained

After two explosions at Kabul airport killed at least 90 people and left 150 wounded, terror group IS-K claimed responsibility for the terror attack. But who are IS-K?

Friday, 27th August 2021, 2:26 pm
Updated Friday, 27th August 2021, 5:59 pm

The news of the two terror attacks at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital of Kabul sent shockwaves across the world as US President Joe Biden issued a warning to those responsible in a press briefing on Thursday 26 August.

President Biden warned the terrorist group Isis-K following the deaths of 13 US service personnel in the Kabul airport attack that “we will hunt you down and make you pay.”

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Who are Isis-K and what does Isis-K stand for? The terror group’s role in Afghan crisis and relation to the Taliban, explained following twin suicide bomb attacks claimed by Isis-K (Image credit: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

The warning comes as the President and Western governments continue evacuations from the country now under Taliban control.

But despite the threat reportedly posed to Afghans and Western soldiers still in Afghanistan by Isis-K, little is known about the terrorist group.

Here’s what we know about Isis-K so far and how they relate to the Taliban amid the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

Who are IS-K and what does the ‘K’ stand for?

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of two powerful explosions, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops on August 26, at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021. (Image credit: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

IS-K, or the Islamic State Khorasan, are an extremist organisation believed to have been formed in 2014 as a splinter group of members from the Islamic State (IS) and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

The ‘K’ in IS-K stands for Khorasan, a historical province which once stretched across Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Unlike the Taliban, the splinter group has not yet captured any territory in Afghanistan despite the strength of their roots in the north east of the country.

Instead, the Islamic State group also sometimes known as Isil-K have been known to launch frequent and fatal attacks on civilians and Western armed forces.

IS-K remain particularly hostile toward any allegiance between the US and the Taliban – with the group claiming responsibility for the attacks at Kabul airport which killed at least 95 people, including Afghan civilians, 13 US service personnel and an estimated 28 Taliban members.

In May 2021, the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Kabul girls’ school in the latest of their large-scale bombings targeting civilians and Afghanistan’s Shia community.

Why are Isis-K enemies of the Taliban?

According to the United Nations, the Islamic State Khorasan formally announced its formation as the Afghan splinter group of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2015.

Since then, they have frequently battled with the Taliban in the country – disagreeing with the Taliban over deals formed with the US and Western forces.

The groups have also been divided by political differences and territorial claims, with Isis leaders denouncing the Taliban’s surge to power in Afghanistan and refusal to fully commit to tougher versions of Sharia law favoured by IS.

What is IS-K’s role in the Afghanistan crisis?

As foreign forces wind down in the run up to Tuesday's final withdrawal, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the threat of further attacks from Islamic State groups like IS-K will only increase.

"I am concerned,” Mr Wallace told BBC Radio Four on Friday morning.

"Isis have an intent, they have the capability should they wish to do so to deploy more of these types of attacks."

Following IS-K’s claim of responsibility for the attack at Kabul airport on Thursday 26 August, fears remain that the withdrawal of US troops could be seen as an opportunity by jihadist groups like IS-K to challenge the rise of the Taliban in the country – with more infighting and attacks possible as the crisis continues.

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