Taliban splinter group in Pakistan vows allegiance to ISIS

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Published Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A splinter group of Pakistan's Taliban has pledged support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, a spokesman said on Monday, in another indication of the appeal of the Iraq- and Syria-based extremist group.

Jundullah announced its backing after meeting a three-man delegation representing ISIS led by al-Zubair al-Kuwaiti, the group's spokesman Fahad Marwat told Reuters.

Jundullah is one of several Pakistani groups exploring relations with ISIS. They share an aim to kill or drive out religious minorities and establish a hardline theocracy.

Analysts say that so far ISIS has mainly attracted sectarian groups rather than anti-state militants, and Pakistan has a ready supply of hardened fighters receptive to sectarian hatred.

Pakistan's sectarian groups killed a record number of minority Shia Muslims and Christians over the last years, with Jundullah recently carrying out a church bombing that killed around 80.

"They (ISIS) are our brothers, whatever plan they have we will support them," said Jundullah spokesman Marwat.

His comments follow the release of a video last month by five Pakistani Taliban commanders pledging support to ISIS. The latter also has contacts with the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), militants and security officials said.

"The top leadership of LeJ visited Saudi Arabia and met Islamic State leaders at an undisclosed location at Saudi-Iraq border," one militant told Reuters, referring to ISIS. He said the meeting took place more than a year ago.

Tribal rivalries split the Taliban, Pakistan's biggest militant group, this summer, leading to two main factions and several splinter groups.

Six key Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban – Pakistan conglomerate of various Pakistani insurgent groups – announced their allegiance to ISIS in mid-October.

Many Pakistani militants said they felt torn by loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has strong historical ties to al-Qaeda.

ISIS itself broke away from al-Qaeda. Sources close to ISIS said some fighters with al-Qaeda's Syria branch, the al-Nusra Front were joining them after the US-led airstrikes and there was a growing sense among many that it was time to put their differences aside.

The two share the same ideology and rigid Islamic beliefs, but fell out during a power struggle that pitted ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi against al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

But US-led air and missile strikes, which have hit Nusra as well as ISIS bases in Syria, have angered many Nusra members, who say the West and its allies have joined forces in a "crusader" campaign against Islam.

"All anti-Shia groups in Pakistan will welcome and support IS in Pakistan, though most of them will not announce it openly due to their allegiance to Mullah Omar," one said, using a different acronym for ISIS.

Last week, a leaked government memo warned the group had recruited 10,000-12,000 fighters inside Pakistan, but a government minister insisted it had no presence there. Militants and security officials also dismissed the memo as not credible.

Several militants said that hundreds of Pakistanis had gone to fight in Syria, but had done so through the Taliban or on their own. Five who returned took part in an August suicide attack on two Pakistani air bases, a policeman said.

Some analysts say Pakistanis declaring allegiance to ISIS is a ploy to grab headlines rather than a sign of operational links.

"They are the new poster boys of Islamic jihad and they have lots of money," said Saifullah Mahsud of the Islamabad-based think tank FATA Research Center. "There is no doubt they (ISIS) are trying but these are more probing missions than anything else."

Last week, Egypt's main Islamist militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, pledged allegiance to ISIS, in an announcement marking the most significant pledge of support for ISIS in the region outside of Iraq and Syria, suggesting the group's influence over militant groups is overshadowing its once dominant al-Qaeda rivals.

ISIS has captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, declaring what it calls a cross-border Islamic "caliphate," killing thousands and displacing millions in the two countries.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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