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MIxTRAC: Islamic State Targets Foreigners in Tajikistan and Increased Activity in Afghanistan

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The information, data and findings from the below brief was collected by and sourced from TRAC: Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, in partnership with the Mackenzie Institute. Please click here to visit TRAC.

Islamic State Targets Foreigners in Tajikistan and Increased Activity in Afghanistan

Islamic State Vehicle, Knife & Gun Attack Kills 4 Foreign Cyclists in Southern Tajikistan (29 July 2018)

In what might be the first act of terrorism targeting foreigners on Tajik soil, four foreign cyclists from Europe and America were killed and three others injured by assailants in the Danghara district of southern Tajikistan. A vehicle ran the tourists off the road, and men brandishing knives and a gun exited and began attacking them. Responding security forces killed one militant and captured another. Three other suspects remain at large. In total, 2 Americans were killed, as were a Dutchman and a Swiss national. A Frenchman was among the injured.

Islamic State has claimed credit for the attack, and refers to the attackers as “soldiers of the Islamic State,” but then add “responding to calls to target citizens of Coalition countries,” which indicates an inspired attack. Amaq Agency published a video of the 5 militants pledging allegiance to the Caliph prior to carrying out their attack, and rewards for information are being offered for those with information on the suspects pictured below. The three young men all were born in Tajikistan. Their fourth accomplice is currently detained by authorities.

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Zafarjon Safarov, 18, a resident of Panj District, Asomuddin Majidov, 19, also from Panj, and Jafaridin Yusufov, 21, from Norak.

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Tajikistan has had a continuous problem with Islamic State’s influence. In Chorqishloq, the village in the northern Sughd province of Tajikistan is the largest area of IS foreign fighters by December 2016; more than 100 people had left for ash Sham to join IS and during 2017 at least 28 Tajikistan nationals were suicide bombers in Syria and Iraq.

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Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) Besiege Directorate of Migrants and Refugees in Jalalabad, Afghanistan (31 July 2018)

A conference soliciting donors for Afghan refugees at the Directorate of Migrants and Refugees was attacked by two militants, who besieged the building and took hostages before dying after a six-hour gunfight with responding security forces. Prior to the gunfight, a car bomb was set off at 11:30am local time outside the complex, which is located near a hospital and the United Nations compound in Jalalabad. 15 people were killed in the assault.

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The capital of Nangarhar province, Jalalabad has witnessed Islamic State suicide operations targeting Ministries and NGO facilities that provide basic and essential services for the impoverished region. This latest sustained assault on the Directorate of Migrants and Refugees comes only three days after a similar assault on the city’s USAID’s HQ/midwife center. Furthermore, provincial authorities have announced that in the past three months, 160 civilians have died and 490 suffered wounds in Nangarhar. ISK are responsible for most if not all of those casualties.

Eastern Afghanistan and Nangarhar remains the focal point of ISK activities in the country, and the repeated suicide bombings in the provincial capital hampers the government’s basic aid and developmental efforts from reaching the desperate population.

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA/Taliban) Attack Leads to Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) Surrendering to Afghan Army & Territorial Seizure, Afghanistan (01 August 2018)

On 01 August 2018, IEA/Taliban reported that ISK Emir Mawlawi Habib Rahman of the Darzab district in Jowzjan (as well as 2 other leaders; Mufti Neamat – a Uzbek commander, in Sar Dara area of Darzab and Sibghatullah – and another Uzbek from Darzab, heading ISK’s financial division) had surrendered with at least 150 cadre. IEA/Taliban now claims complete control of the Sardara and Qara Maghul areas of Darzab district in Jowzjan. If true, this would prove a serious blow for ISK operations throughout the nation because under Mawlawi Habib Rahman’s leadership ISK had been able to continue to strike IEA even after the death of the powerful, charismatic Qari Hekmat in April 2018. Darzab had also been a regional hub for ISK foreign fighter congregation.

However, even though the Afghan media confirmed the surrender did occur, based on the weapons seized and almost certain inflated numbers of fighters killed and captured, Darazab is not the only area of ISK operations in the north. Moreover, this is not the first time IEA/Taliban has reported that ISK had been defeated by their forces, as recently as 21 June 2018, IEA offered photos of ISK defections to the Taliban.

Emir Mawlawi Habib Rahman

Since the death of the previous ISK Emir—Qari Hekmat—in April 2018, the new chosen Emir, Mawlawi Habib Rahman (alt. Mawlavi Habibur Rehman or Mawlawi Habib-ur-Rehman) a local Uzbek who hails from Sholgar district (Balkh province), has been managing to hold his own in the Sar Dara area of Darzab. Reports from TRAC sources claim that ISK has relocated dozens of ISK Pakistani cadres from Kunar camps in 4 days (since 27 May 2018). The relocation serves a dual purpose. First, to completely eradicate Lashkar-e-Islam from the region, and secondly, it would ensure the newly trained recruits’ survival as ISK in Kunar has been under heavy pressure by US and Afghan forces.

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Leadership Structure in Darzab

It should be assumed that the two deputies operating under Qari Hekmat (Mullah Zabihullah, for military affairs, and Haji, for civilian affairs) will remain loyal to Mawlawi Habib Rahman. In contrast, there is good reason to believe that other influential ISK members that fell under Hekmat’s command will continue to operate under Mawlawi Habib Rahman:

  • Mufti Nemat, an Uzbek commander, in Sar Dara area of Darzab;
  • Haji Zainuddin, a local Uzbek and former Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) commander of the border between Darzab and Qush Tepa;
  • Omar Muhajer, leading fighter from Ghor province;
  • Mufti Nemat, head of the military court;
  • Omar Muhajer, head of the ‘virtues’ division;
  • Mullah Sohbatullah, (alt. spelling Sibghatullah), another Uzbek from Darzab, heads the financial division;
  • Mullah Qudratullah, a Tajik from either Herat or Badghis, operates the intelligence division.

Regional Hub Since June 2017

With reports that ISK’s camp was 200 cadre strong near the Bibi Maryam village, Darzab has been a regional hub for Islamic State Khurasan (ISK) since at least June 2017. By July 2017, there were reports that ISK was conducting Hisba activities such as restricting people from watching TV, listening to the radio, buying chicken meat, and smoking in the village in Darzab. Forming police and government activities are usually Islamic State’s second phase after setting up base camps.

Photos of Surrender Ceremony

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The above has been compiled by Ryan J. Anderson, an MA student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, specializing in Intelligence and International Affairs. He is a Junior Research Affiliate with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society (TSAS), a research analyst at the International Counter-Terrorism Youth Network (ICTYN), and was previously a Research Fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy (CIDP), Queen’s University. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanandrson

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