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ICCT Snapshot: Islamic State - Khorasan Province

12 Jan 2024
Short Read by Kees Eggink

Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is a regional chapter of Islamic State, named after the province in which they are most active. After the defeat of the Caliphate in 2019 in Syria, what remains of Islamic State has gone chiefly underground in the region of Syria and Iraq, but it still has some strongholds in other regions. ISKP currently poses one of the most pressing transnational security threats. While operating from an Afghanistan province unmonitored by external security services, the group seems to find itself in a situation comparable to pre-9/11 Afghanistan. 

Who are ISKP?  

ISKP was formed in 2014 as a collective of defectors from groups including al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) and former Taliban fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan. In January 2015 the central Islamic State announced its official expansion to the Khorasan province. It is estimated that ISKP has between 4,000 and 6,000 members.  It is not clear who leads ISKP, as their former leader Sanaullah Ghafari was killed in 2023 by the Taliban. The links between members of ISKP and other groups such as al-Qaeda and the TTP have been described as ‘blurry’

Where are they active?  

The name Khorasan applies to an ancient region in modern day Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Contrary to its name implying that the ISKP is only active in the Khorasan region, they adhere to the general ISIS doctrine where the goal is to establish a transnational caliphate

What is the threat?  

ISKP has been the most active terrorist group in Afghanistan since 2021, and in 2022 the group was held responsible for the third most deaths worldwide after IS and Al-Shabaab. ISKP gained considerably more international attention after the attack on Kabul airport during the Afghanistan evacuations, killing 170 Afghan civilians and 13 United States servicemen. Civilians and military targets used to be the main target in 2021, but in 2022 the ISKP transitioned to mainly targeting the Taliban, with almost 75 percent of its attacks being against the new Afghanistan leadership. The conflict between the Taliban and ISKP is mainly based on territorial disputes and the implementation of sharia law by the Taliban, as ISKP wants an even stricter version of sharia law. The group also started conducting foreign operations, claiming responsibility for the deadly attacks in Pakistan and Iran. Responding to Qur'an burnings in the Netherlands and Sweden, ISKP has also publicly designated these countries as possible targets in the future

What are the challenges and considerations? 

As the Taliban keep downsizing their security sector, ISKP could grow significantly. One of the biggest challenges in countering the ISKP in Afghanistan is the lack of monitoring of the groups, as their capacity is often disputed. ISKP finds itself in an Afghanistan where the domestic security situation resembles pre 9/11 Afghanistan. ISKP thus has the platform to keep transforming into a transnational threat.