Sheikh Abdul Hasib, head of Islamic State’s operations in Afghanistan and the central figure in a multinational operation to train Indian jihadists in the Nangarhar mountains, has been killed with several other commanders and at least 35 fighters, according to USFOR, the headquarters of US forces in the war-torn country. Sources in Afghanistan told The Indian Express that the raid by Afghan and US special forces on April 27, which claimed Hasib’s life, was part of strikes that also led to the death of two IS members from Kerala: Bestin Vincent alias Yahiya from Palakkad, and the commander of Indian jihadists in the region, Sajeer Mangalasseri Abdulla, a former resident of Sultan Batheri.
USFOR said, “(Hasib) directed the March 8 attack against Kabul National Military Hospital, which resulted in the deaths and injury of over one hundred innocent Afghans. Hasib also directed fighters to behead local elders in front of their families and ordered the kidnapping of women and girls to force them to marry Islamic State fighters.”
General John Nicholson, commander of USFOR, said, “This successful joint operation is another important step in our relentless campaign to defeat the Islamic State in 2017.”
Left increasingly leaderless by the raids, the survivors of the 25-strong community from Kerala, who once lived in homes seized from local villagers, are believed to have retreated deeper into the Spin Ghar mountains, making reliable communications with their families more difficult.
Haseeb, appointed emir or head of the Islamic State’s Khorasan branch by the organisation’s so-called caliph Ibrahim Awad al-Badri in November 2016, had a long-standing relationship with Pakistan-based jihadist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The LeT ties, Afghan intelligence officials say, were key to his decision to take on a number of Indian jihadists in the group’s ranks.
Educated during his early years at the Jami’a Imam Bukhari of Haji Inayat-ur-Rehman in Peshawar, Haseeb later studied at another seminary in the city, Abu Muhammad Aminullah’s Ganj madrassa.
FBI notices seeking Aminullah’s arrest say he is “wanted for questioning in connection with providing material support to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and anti-coalition militias, with the aid of a Pakistan-based terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba”.
Aminullah, it says, operates as “a financier, recruiter and weapons facilitator for the [Ganj] madrassa”.
The two seminaries where Haseeb studied were set up with the support of the LeT, as part of an effort to establish an ideological base loyal to the Ahl-e-Hadith’s jihadist wing in the region. At the time, this wing was dominated by mujahideen groups with theological roots in seminaries that were linked to the Deobandi movement in Pakistan, or to local traditions in Afghanistan.
In 1990, the new Lashkar-backed party — Jamil-ur-Rahman’s Jama’at al-Dawa ila al-Qur’an wal-Sunna — contested local elections held by mujahideen groups in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, and set up an Islamic emirate.
Helped by the Lashkar’s Hafiz Saeed, it succeeded in raising extensive funds from Saudi Arabia, even though it was not among the seven mujahideen parties officially recognised by Pakistan. The patronage made it powerful enemies, though, key among them warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who decimated the group by 1991.
Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who swore an oath of loyalty to the Islamic State in June, 2014, and was then appointed deputy chief of its Afghan chapter — only to defect the following year — was among Jamil-ur-Rahman’s deputies in the Kunar Islamic Emirate.
The Islamic State in Afghanistan, though, became a magnet for many Pakistani jihadists evicted from their country by the Pakistan army. In October, 2014, slain jihadist Sheikh Maqbool — a former Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesperson — pledged allegiance to the Islamic State saying “the Quran makes it mandatory for the Muslims to follow their caliph”.
Five other Tehreek-e-Taliban leaders joined him in the pledge including the first chief of the new Islamic State Khorasan wing, Saeed Khan, who was killed in a drone strike in November.
Intense operations targeting the Islamic State in Afghanistan, intelligence sources said, have disrupted plans to move Indian jihadists still with the Islamic State in Syria, as well as new volunteers, to locations in Nangarhar. These plans are suspected to have been firmed up this summer, western intelligence sources sources say, when the Islamic State moved its leadership to al-Mayadin, in Syria’s Deir es-Zor region, deep in the Euphrates valley.
Even as leaders and their families were barred from leaving the city without permission, top foreign commanders were told to prepare to wage a long war in the periphery, using the cadre in their home countries rather than in the so-called caliphate.
Following this, instead of calling potential recruits to Syria, Indian Islamic State recruiters began distributing instructions on making simple improvised explosive devices, and urged followers to stage attacks on Hindu nationalist leaders and Muslims critical of the jihadist movement. Those who demonstrated commitment, intelligence officials believe, were to be called to Afghanistan.