The Islamic State-Khorasan targets Russia but also Iran and Europe

Sanaullah Ghafari, 29, leader of the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, has transformed his group into the network's most fearsome branch, capable of conducting operations far from its bases in Afghanistan's border areas.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 March 2024 Monday 04:24
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The Islamic State-Khorasan targets Russia but also Iran and Europe

Sanaullah Ghafari, 29, leader of the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, has transformed his group into the network's most fearsome branch, capable of conducting operations far from its bases in Afghanistan's border areas. ISIS claimed responsibility for the Moscow terrorist attack. The discovery of the Tajik passports of the four detained in Moscow suggested a possible link to Ghafari's group, which he has aggressively recruited in the impoverished former Soviet Central Asian republic, according to experts consulted by Reuters. His organization has repeatedly attempted to attack Russia in retaliation for its intervention in Syria, which helped defeat IS.

Ghafari was said to have died in Afghanistan last June, but escaped with injuries across the border into Pakistan and is believed to be living in the lawless border province of Balochistan. Named emir of IS-Khorasan (after the region's old Persian name) in 2020, Ghafari has bolstered the group's reputation, first with a suicide bombing at Kabul airport in 2021 during the US military withdrawal that He killed 13 soldiers and dozens of civilians. In September 2022, he claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing at the Russian embassy in Kabul. Last January there was a double attack in Iran that killed almost 100 people at a monument to the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Qassem Soleimani.

Colin Clarke of the New York-based Soufan Center, a think tank on global security issues, said there are a number of examples of Islamist militants who have escaped rather than carry out suicide missions, such as the gunmen who attacked the Bataclan hall, in Paris, in November 2015. In 2023, the police and intelligence services of Germany, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and Kyrgyzstan thwarted attack attempts that had Tajik militants of the IS-Khorasan as suspects. On January 28, 2014, Tajiks and Russians caused one death in the Catholic Church of Saint Mary, in Istanbul.