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‘Severe threat’ of an ‘imminent’ terror attack at Kabul airport, British armed forces minister warns


Shots have been fired at an Italian military transport plane as it flew out of Kabul airport hours after a British minister warned an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS attack was expected in the Afghan capital.

The C-130 plane was not damaged in the incident, a source from Italy’s Defence Ministry added.

An Italian journalist traveling on the flight told Sky 24 TG that the plane had been carrying almost 100 Afghan civilians when it came under fire minutes after take-off. 

Earlier, armed forces minister James Heappey said there is ‘very credible reporting’ of a ‘severe’ attack which could happen ‘within hours’ by ISIS-K, the sworn enemy of the Taliban who want to cause mayhem in the new regime. 

The US, Britain and Australia had already told their citizens to flee the airport over the terror threat with Western forces still stationed at the transport hub, with a multiple car-bomb attack feared by officials. 

The fears are heaping extra pressure on the operation to evacuate stranded foreigners, with Tuesday’s deadline for foreign troops to leave fast approaching.  

Meanwhile Afghans who had been told to stay away from Kabul airport are instead flocking to Pakistan and Iran in a bid to escape after the UK told them to head to the border, while many countries have announced they are ending their airlift operations from today.

Heappey told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There is now very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack.

Shots have been fired at an Italian military transport plane as it flew out of Kabul airport hours after a British minister warned an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS attack was expected in the Afghan capital. Pictured: a military plane departs from Hamid Karzai airport

A US soldier holds up a sign indicating a gate is closed as hundreds gather at Kabul airport holding documents in a bid to flee despite security fears over a potential terror attack 'within hours'

A US soldier holds up a sign indicating a gate is closed as hundreds gather at Kabul airport holding documents in a bid to flee despite security fears over a potential terror attack ‘within hours’

Planes are lined up at Kabul international airport today as the rescue mission to evacuate thousands is still ongoing ahead of the August 31 deadline

Planes are lined up at Kabul international airport today as the rescue mission to evacuate thousands is still ongoing ahead of the August 31 deadline

Founded in 2015, the ISIS splinter group's followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial 'K') – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia

Founded in 2015, the ISIS splinter group’s followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia

Afghan nationals are desperately fleeing to the border after they were told to stay away from Kabul airport. They are making crossings into Pakistan at Spin Boldak where huge crowds were seen, Angur Ada and Torkham. They are also rushing to safety at border crossings in Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many are still hoping to board flights at Kabul airport despite the Taliban and Western nations warning them to stay away

Afghan nationals are desperately fleeing to the border after they were told to stay away from Kabul airport. They are making crossings into Pakistan at Spin Boldak where huge crowds were seen, Angur Ada and Torkham. They are also rushing to safety at border crossings in Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many are still hoping to board flights at Kabul airport despite the Taliban and Western nations warning them to stay away

‘It’s an extraordinarily challenging situation both on the ground and as a set of decisions to be taken here in Whitehall because people are desperate, people are fearing for their lives anyway.

‘And so I think there is an appetite by many in the queue to take their chances, but the reporting of this threat is very credible indeed and there is a real imminence to it. I can only say the threat is severe.’

He added: ‘I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough, the threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal.

‘And we wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target.’

Meanwhile Colonel Richard Kemp, former head of British forces in Afghanistan, said a terror attack could be carried out by any of Al Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘That threat of terrorist attack, whether it’s from Taliban, the Islamic State, or Al Qaeda, it could equally be all three of those groups.

‘The fact that people are talking about Islamic State doesn’t make that the most likely threat.

US soldiers stand guard inside the airport walls while desperate civilians gather outside the gates in a bid to escape the Taliban

US soldiers stand guard inside the airport walls while desperate civilians gather outside the gates in a bid to escape the Taliban

Armed forces minister James Heappey said that there is 'very credible reporting' of a 'severe' attack

Armed forces minister James Heappey said that there is ‘very credible reporting’ of a ‘severe’ attack

A minister has warned that a 'very serious' terror threat at Kabul airport is 'imminent' as thousands desperately try to flee Afghanistan. Pictured: people waiting outside Hamid Karzai airport

A minister has warned that a ‘very serious’ terror threat at Kabul airport is ‘imminent’ as thousands desperately try to flee Afghanistan. Pictured: people waiting outside Hamid Karzai airport

Passengers line up to board a US Air Force flight from Kabul amid the mass evacuation of stranded citizens

Passengers line up to board a US Air Force flight from Kabul amid the mass evacuation of stranded citizens

Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct a security patrol during evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport today

Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct a security patrol during evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport today

Afghan nationals line up and wait for security checks in Pakistan before entering through a common border crossing point in Chaman

Afghan nationals line up and wait for security checks in Pakistan before entering through a common border crossing point in Chaman

‘I think that threat has existed right the way from when this evacuation began, and I have no doubt that our forces are fully aware of the threat and already, for days now, have been taking measures to try and mitigate it, to prevent something like that happening.

‘But, clearly, there could be a terrorist attack of some sort against the forces in the airport, maybe forces outside the airport, and of course the people trying to get in.’

America, Britain and Australia all told their citizens in the early hours of Thursday to immediately leave the area over fears of a deadly blast from jihadists.  

But a Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were ‘incredibly crowded’ again despite the warnings. 

What is ISIS-K? 

ISIS-K is one of six or seven regional offshoots of the Islamic State – the K stands for the Khorasan region, which historically encompasses parts of modern day Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

ISIS-K was begun in 2014, as a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban, and its original leaders were from Pakistan.

In 2015 it was recognized by ISIS’s leaders in Iraq and Syria, and in January 2016 declared a terrorist organization by the State Department.

Its strongholds are eastern Afghanistan, straddling the border with Pakistan in Nangarhar province, and the north of Afghanistan. 

In 2018 the group was weakened in the north of Afghanistan, and in 2019 severely beaten back in the east. But in 2020 they regrouped and launched a series of devastating terror attacks. 

US officials said last night there was a ‘very real risk’ of an attack by the terror group who are the Taliban’s rivals.

‘Due to threats outside the Kabul airport, US citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates unless you receive instructions to do so,’ the US State Department tweeted on Wednesday night. 

‘Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately.’ 

The order to leave the gates was issued at 3.30am local time in Kabul on Thursday morning.   

Planes departing from the US have been departing every 39 minutes in the rush to evacuate as many citizens as possible before the August 31 deadline.

In total, around 88,000 people have been airlifted from Kabul airport since evacuation efforts began, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, but up to 1,500 Americans and 400 Britons still remain on the ground. 

Already, military cargo planes leaving Kabul airport have launched flares to disrupt any potential surface-to-air missile fire as fleeing Afghan troops abandoned heavy weapons and equipment across the country in their collapse following America’s withdrawal of troops. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson today stressed that August 31 would not mark the end of the UK’s commitment to helping those who wish to flee Afghanistan.

Johnson told broadcasters that although the ‘lion’s share’ of eligible people had now been removed from the country, he recognised ‘there will be people who still need help’.

Asked whether this would be challenging amid reports of the Taliban blocking the roads, Mr Johnson said: ‘What we’re hoping, and this is the key point that the G7 agreed, is that the Taliban understand that if they want to engage with development aid, they want to unlock those billions of funds, they want to have a diplomatic, political relationship with the outside world, then the safe passage for those who want to come out is the key precondition.’

Some countries have begun to even pull their soldiers and diplomats out, fearing potential attacks and likely signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told French radio RTL on that ‘from tomorrow evening onwards, we are not able to evacuate people from the Kabul airport’ due to the upcoming American withdrawal.

Armed Taliban fighters wait for lunch at a restaurant in Kabul while sitting with their guns amid the chaos at the international airport

Armed Taliban fighters wait for lunch at a restaurant in Kabul while sitting with their guns amid the chaos at the international airport

Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul

Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul

The threat is heaping extra pressure on the operation to help people flee the nation captured by the Taliban

The threat is heaping extra pressure on the operation to help people flee the nation captured by the Taliban

Western nations warned of a possible attack on Kabul's airport, where thousands (pictured today) have flocked as they try to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the waning days of a massive airlift

Western nations warned of a possible attack on Kabul’s airport, where thousands (pictured today) have flocked as they try to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the waning days of a massive airlift

A source close to the government added that the date had been imposed on France by the plan of the United States, which is providing security at the airport, to pull out by August 31.

The source added that France would do everything to keep its operation in place for as many more hours as it can, saying that the evacuation of civilians would wind up several hours before the formal end of the mission when military and remaining embassy services would leave.

The French foreign ministry has indicated that the final evacuations of civilians from Kabul by France would be late on Thursday or Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Danish defense minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: ‘It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.’ Denmark’s last flight, carrying 90 people plus soldiers and diplomats, already had left Kabul. 

And the Dutch government said it would stop evacuation flights from Kabul today in what it acknowledged was a ‘painful moment’ that would leave some people behind. 

Already, Poland and Belgium have ended their evacuations from Afghanistan. 

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan grew out of disaffected Taliban members who hold an even-more extreme view of Islam, riding on a wave when the militants seized territory across Iraq and Syria. 

Naming themselves after Khorasan, a historic name for the greater region, the extremists embarked on a series of brutal attacks that included a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul that saw infants and women killed. 

The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. However, their advance across the country likely saw IS fighters freed alongside the Taliban’s own.  

Armed forces minister James Heappey said there is 'very credible reporting' of a 'severe' attack which could happen 'within hours' by ISIS-K

Armed forces minister James Heappey said there is ‘very credible reporting’ of a ‘severe’ attack which could happen ‘within hours’ by ISIS-K

Troubling video showed thousands of Afghans attempting to flee the country via the Pakistan border. The footage shows a huge crowd of people at Spin Boldak, a southern village on the border with Pakistan, queuing up at the border gates

Troubling video showed thousands of Afghans attempting to flee the country via the Pakistan border. The footage shows a huge crowd of people at Spin Boldak, a southern village on the border with Pakistan, queuing up at the border gates

US paratroopers inspect weapons during an evacuation operation at Kabul airport amid growing fears of an imminent terror attack

US paratroopers inspect weapons during an evacuation operation at Kabul airport amid growing fears of an imminent terror attack

CNN reported Thursday that they believe ISIS-K wants to create mayhem at the airport and has intelligence streams suggesting it is capable and planning to carry out multiple attacks.

Analysts told on Wednesday night that the intelligence likely came from intercepted calls, amid fears recently-freed prisoners could mount the attacks.

Concerns increased after more than 100 prison inmates loyal to the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan escaped from two prisons near Kabul as the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital.

Taliban fighters stormed the jails at Bagram and Pul-e-Charkhi, both to the east of Kabul, shortly before the capital city fell, as hundreds of ISIS-K fighters were freed. 

Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that ISIS-K were believed to be attempting to target departing jets, as he explained why it was unlikely that US forces will remain in the area beyond August 31.

The UK last night told its Afghan allies to head for the border rather than attempt to get into Kabul airport where US and British forces are winding down their operations. 

As evacuation efforts entered their final hours, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to signal in a briefing to MPs that there are few places left on British planes.  

Afghans walk through a security barrier as they enter Pakistan through a common border crossing point in Chaman

Afghans walk through a security barrier as they enter Pakistan through a common border crossing point in Chaman

The UK last night told its Afghan allies to head for the border rather than attempt to get into Kabul airport where US and British forces are winding down their operations. Pictured: Taliban fighters at a restaurant in Kabul

The UK last night told its Afghan allies to head for the border rather than attempt to get into Kabul airport where US and British forces are winding down their operations. Pictured: Taliban fighters at a restaurant in Kabul

Questioned yesterday about what Afghans who have been offered student places or fellowships in the UK should do, Mr Wallace said: ‘If they think they can make it to a third country, that may be a better option.’

Pressed by a Tory backbencher, Mr Wallace added: ‘I recommend that they try and make it to the border … because it is higher profile going to the airport – that is where the Taliban will be focusing their efforts at the moment.’

There was no suggestion however, that Afghans who have been told by western officials to travel to the airport for evacuation should alter that plan. 

Heappey said the ‘window of opportunity to evacuate people is closing’ ahead of the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline. 

He said: ‘We will do our best to protect those who are there. There is every chance that as further reporting comes in we may be able to change the advice again and process people anew but there’s now guarantee of that.

‘But… the window of opportunity to evacuate people is closing. It’s not as simply a case of we can pause, deal with the threat and pick up where we left off.’

He said there will be 11 more flights out of Kabul on Thursday but declined to say whether there will be more on Friday, citing the security of troops.

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier checks travel documents of an Afghan before crossing the border into Afghanistan through a common border crossing point in Chaman

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier checks travel documents of an Afghan before crossing the border into Afghanistan through a common border crossing point in Chaman

Meanwhile, troubling video yesterday showed thousands of Afghans attempting to flee the country via the Pakistan border.

The footage shows a huge crowd of people at Spin Boldak, a southern village on the border with Pakistan, queuing up at the border gates.  

It comes amid reports that desperate Britons and Afghans cleared for evacuation are still trapped in Kabul and are being charged more than £5,000 by local ‘private security firms’  to help them escape the clutches of the Taliban.

The firms are reportedly charging $7,500 dollars (approximately £5,500) to give those willing to pay a safe passage past Taliban fighters and to Kabul airport.

But most of the money is actually being used to pay off the Taliban anyway, say UK defence sources. 

Meanwhile, crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, yesterday as the evacuation mission continues

Meanwhile, crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, yesterday as the evacuation mission continues

Pressed by a Tory backbencher, Mr Wallace (pictured) added: ‘I recommend that they try and make it to the border … because it is higher profile going to the airport – that is where the Taliban will be focusing their efforts at the moment.’

Around 150 flights left Kabul airport yesterday as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) insisted the UK will use ‘every hour left’ to rescue vulnerable Afghans

Pressed by a Tory backbencher, Mr Wallace added: ‘I recommend that they try and make it to the border … because it is higher profile going to the airport – that is where the Taliban will be focusing their efforts at the moment.’ Around 150 flights left Kabul airport yesterday as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the UK will use ‘every hour left’ to rescue vulnerable Afghans

Some of those trying to flee the Taliban may be better off heading for the border rather than hoping for a flight out, the Defence Secretary admitted last night.

Some of those trying to flee the Taliban may be better off heading for the border rather than hoping for a flight out, the Defence Secretary admitted last night. 

Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul

Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul 

Private security firms are charging terrified Britons who are cleared for evacuation but trapped in the chaos of Kabul 

Desperate Britons and Afghans cleared for evacuation are reportedly paying private security firms more than £5,000 to help them escape the clutches of the Taliban, it has been reported.

The firms are reportedly charging $7,500 dollars (approximately £5,500) to give those willing to pay a safe passage past Taliban fighters and to Kabul airport.

But most of the money is actually being used to pay off the Taliban anyway, UK defence sources have told the Guardian.

It comes as yesterday Taliban officials announced a new edict banning Afghans from leaving the country.

Roadblocks and check points were set up across Kabul to prevent access to the airport where western forces are carrying out a rapid evacuation.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Defence Secretary last night warned some of those trying to flee the Taliban may be better off heading for the border rather than hoping for a flight out.

As evacuation efforts entered their final hours, Ben Wallace appeared to signal in a briefing to MPs that there are few places left on British planes. 

The frantic race to rescue the last 2,000 Afghan allies was underway last night as the Daily Mail learned all UK troops must leave Afghanistan by the weekend. 

Around 150 flights left Kabul airport yesterday as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the UK will use ‘every hour left’ to rescue vulnerable Afghans.

But the grim reality is that many hundreds – including heroic Afghan interpreters – will be left to the clutches of the Taliban after Tuesday’s deadline for international troops to leave. 

A US order that Britain must pull out its 1,000 soldiers and officials before the US begins its withdrawal has reduced the time available to process the final claims.

US commanders have also insisted on ‘two to three days’ to conduct a unilateral extraction of their 6,000-strong force, meaning the last UK troops are expected to fly out on Sunday.

The order came as the Taliban further tightened its grip on the airport, using checkpoints to block anyone not holding the necessary paperwork and demanding bribes from those who did.

Afghans and foreign citizens suffered beatings. 

Video footage showed an Australian with blood streaming down his face from a head wound after he was confronted by Taliban guards.

There were estimated to be 10,000 Afghans crammed outside the gates to the airport.

UK commander Brigadier Dan Blanchford said they faced ‘harrowing and extreme conditions’.  

Since the start of the operation, the RAF has flown out 11,474 people, including almost 7,000 vulnerable Afghans. 

It has evacuated more than 2,500 UK nationals, 341 British Embassy officials and around 1,000 nationals from 38 nations.  The figure of 2,000 awaiting rescue could rise, with the last freedom flight possibly tomorrow.

Around 150 flights left Kabul airport yesterday as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the UK will use ‘every hour left’ to rescue vulnerable Afghans. In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster

Around 150 flights left Kabul airport yesterday as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the UK will use ‘every hour left’ to rescue vulnerable Afghans. In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster

There were estimated to be 10,000 Afghans crammed outside the gates to the airport. UK commander Brigadier Dan Blanchford said they faced ‘harrowing and extreme conditions’. Pictured: Afghans line up outside a bank to take out cash as people keep waiting at Hamid Karzai International Airport

There were estimated to be 10,000 Afghans crammed outside the gates to the airport. UK commander Brigadier Dan Blanchford said they faced ‘harrowing and extreme conditions’. Pictured: Afghans line up outside a bank to take out cash as people keep waiting at Hamid Karzai International Airport

‘We’re leaving in 72 hours – it doesn’t matter who’s left on the ground,’ says former CIA agent

American civilians and Afghan allies have just 72 hours before evacuations from Kabul end, a former CIA officer and terrorism expert has claimed.

Sam Faddis, who served as the head of the Counter Terrorism Center’s Weapons of Mass Destruction unit, said sources in the Pentagon, military officers in Kabul and other former intelligence agency officers have told him that flights for civilians out of the Afghan capital will actually end in the next three days.

The alleged deadline has not been officially announced or verified, but raises fears that American citizens could be left behind in the Taliban-occupied city.

On Tuesday President Joe Biden confirmed that US forces will be leaving the country by August 31, a date agreed with the Taliban – but Faddis claims American civilians currently in the city have a far shorter deadline.

‘Biden decided we’re pulling out within 72 hours. We’re gone, and it doesn’t matter who’s left on the ground,’ the ex-CIA officer told DailyMail.com.

There are ‘special cases’ still to be processed – Afghans to be offered sanctuary in the UK due to the likelihood they will be targeted by the Taliban.

British troops face an increased threat of a terrorist attack from jihadis.

At the airport, a young Afghan woman told the BBC that Taliban forces were treating the crowds of waiting civilians ‘like animals’. 

Before she boarded a flight, she said: ‘Today after three days, I finally got into the airport and I have my flight. It took us 18 hours to get through one of the gates .

‘The airport is completely surrounded by Taliban forces and they’re being as brutal as they can to the people. They’re shooting at people, they’re beating people.

‘I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I’m travelling to a safer country – anything right now is better than being in a country led by the Taliban. 

‘On the other, I’m leaving behind everything – my life, my work, my dreams, my hopes. I really desperately want to one day come back to Kabul and see Kabul free of the Taliban.’ 

Amid the horror, there was also humanity. A British officer described looking after a baby girl after she child became separated from her mother in the crush.

Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Caesar of 16 Medical Regiment, said: ‘We took her for a walk around our hospital, managed to burp her a few times. She seemed to settle.

‘One of the challenges in this sort of environment is never really knowing who is going to come through the door. We have to be prepared for every eventuality.

‘Fortunately as a recent father myself I have a bit of experience in dealing with small children. She was later reunited with her mother before being evacuated.’ 

At the airport, a young Afghan woman told the BBC that Taliban forces were treating the crowds of waiting civilians ‘like animals’. Before she boarded a flight, she said: ‘Today after three days, I finally got into the airport and I have my flight. It took us 18 hours to get through one of the gates.' Pictured: A C-17 Globemaster lll lands on the runway as evacuees from Afghanistan debark a C-17 Globemaster

At the airport, a young Afghan woman told the BBC that Taliban forces were treating the crowds of waiting civilians ‘like animals’. Before she boarded a flight, she said: ‘Today after three days, I finally got into the airport and I have my flight. It took us 18 hours to get through one of the gates.’ Pictured: A C-17 Globemaster lll lands on the runway as evacuees from Afghanistan debark a C-17 Globemaster

Two paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct security while a C-130 Hercules takes off during a evacuation operation in Kabul

Two paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct security while a C-130 Hercules takes off during a evacuation operation in Kabul

A heart-breaking announcement for those who remain is expected ‘imminently’, according to political sources. The crowds are expected to be told, perhaps today, that evacuations for civilians are no longer possible.

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence committee, said: ‘We are down to the last hours. 

‘It is vital we communicate with those waiting outside the airport to prevent panic and loss of life, confirming what has happened.

They will have to be told, sadly, that no more evacuation flights are possible ahead of the August 31 deadline and that, as from then, only military withdrawal flights will be taking off.’ 

Afghanistan’s chilling new face of terror: ‘ISIS-K’ slaughter patients in their hospital beds, bomb girls schools… and see the Taliban as far too liberal. Their latest victory? Joe Biden is running scared of them, writes GUY ADAMS

ISIS-K are thought to be the likely source of a potential terror attack at Kabul airport, which officials fear is ‘imminent’ with ‘lethal’ consequences.

The terrorist splinter group are a sworn enemy of the Taliban and experts believe they want to cause chaos for the new regime while a large presence of foreign troops is stationed in the country.

Guy Adams explores the roots of the murderous Islamists who have already carried out a series of deadly attacks in the Middle East, amid fears of further violence.

 Dressed in white coats and carrying stethoscopes, three young men walked unchallenged into Kabul’s 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and made their way to the upper floors.

Then, outside the building, situated opposite the heavily fortified US Embassy, there was a loud bang.

The noise, from the detonating suicide vest of a comrade, acted as a signal for the trio to pull a selection of hand grenades and AK-47 assault rifles from beneath their medical clothing, before opening fire.

By the time the chaos had died down, several hours later, more than 30 doctors and patients had been killed and roughly 50 more wounded.

Further casualties included the three attackers, who were shot by Afghan special forces, plus the original suicide bomber, and a fifth member of the terror gang who had detonated a car bomb inside the hospital complex.

A former Pakistani Taliban commander called Hafiz Saeed Khan (middle) led ISIS-K until he was killed by a drone strike in 2016

A former Pakistani Taliban commander called Hafiz Saeed Khan (middle) led ISIS-K until he was killed by a drone strike in 2016

Their brazen and pitiless attack, which unfolded in broad daylight one afternoon in March 2017, was carried out in the name of ISIS-K, a local branch of the notorious global terror network.

Founded in 2015, its followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia.

The terror group is now such a threat that fear of an attack by Isis-K is being used to justify the US’s refusal to delay its withdrawal from Kabul Airport after the August 31 deadline set by Joe Biden.

In a statement released on Tuesday night, the US President claimed: ‘Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians.’

The White House seems to believe ISIS-K (who regard the Taliban as dangerous liberals) is about to organise a wave of attacks in an effort to destabilise its efforts to form a government.

If so, then any foreign troops, including soldiers from Britain’s 16 Air Assault Brigade currently guarding Kabul airport, would represent very high-profile targets indeed.

The organisation has already carried out roughly 100 attacks against civilian targets and another 250 involving US, Afghan or Pakistani security services, most of them chronicled via macabre mobile phone videos then gleefully broadcast via the internet.

One particularly vile film, circulated in June 2017, celebrated the work of a group of child recruits to ISIS-K known as the ‘cubs of the caliphates’.

Founded in 2015, its followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial 'K') – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia

Founded in 2015, its followers aim to establish an Islamic caliphate across Khorasan (hence the initial ‘K’) – a historic region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan along with parts of Central Asia

The film showed two of them – both dressed in black and seemingly under 12 years of age – forcing terrified captives to kneel on the ground.

They proceeded to pull back the heads of the men (who were apparently accused of spying), rant at the camera and execute them via a single shot to the skull.

More recently, in May this year, ISIS-K killed at least 68 Afghans and injured another 165 when they detonated three car bombs outside the Syed Al-Shahda school for girls in Kabul. 

The vast majority of the victims were young pupils the Islamist group regard as legitimate targets for the sin of being educated while being female.

The attack, which came after a period in which Western air strikes had killed thousands of the terror network’s supporters and at least three of its leaders, served as a bloody reminder of its ongoing ability to bring carnage to the streets of Afghanistan. 

ISIS-K published this photo in an effort to project unity and strength just days before hundreds of fighters admitted defeat and surrendered

ISIS-K published this photo in an effort to project unity and strength just days before hundreds of fighters admitted defeat and surrendered

The very fact that a US President is admitting that his policy is being governed by a perceived threat from ISIS-K represents a major coup for a hitherto fairly low-profile organisation.

It first made headlines in January 2016, when the Pentagon announced that the group had been designated as a Foreign Terrorist organisation.

This made assisting them a criminal offence and allowed US troops on the ground to actively pursue members (under previous terms of engagement they usually had to wait until the group attacked them before responding).

The organisation’s chosen first Emir, or leader, was a former Pakistani Taliban commander called Hafiz Saeed Khan. 

His foot-soldiers were largely people who had defected from the Taliban as was his canny PR chief, Sheikh Maqbool, who was charged with ensuring that the group’s grisly attacks gained worldwide attention. 

They were appointed at the behest of ISIS’s (then) top dog Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was facing difficulties in his stomping grounds of Syria and Iraq, so began funnelling cash to Khan in order to establish a new stronghold in the East.

Initially, their activities were limited to suicide bombings and small arms attacks targeting civilians, along with the odd kidnapping, but that was enough to prompt close attention from the US, who succeeded in killing Khan via a drone strike in July 2016.

A member of the Afghan security forces is seen holding the black and white Islamic State flag in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in August 2020, after ISIS-K launched a 20-hour gun battle to attack the air field and storm a prison, releasing their fighters. Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that ISIS-K posed a significant threat to the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan

A member of the Afghan security forces is seen holding the black and white Islamic State flag in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in August 2020, after ISIS-K launched a 20-hour gun battle to attack the air field and storm a prison, releasing their fighters. Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that ISIS-K posed a significant threat to the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan

His successor Abdul Hasib masterminded the hospital attack mentioned above, and was famed for both ordering fighters to behead local elders in front of their families, and to kidnap women and girls so they could be forced to ‘marry’ his fighters, that is, become sex slaves. 

He perished in a special forces raid on his compound in which two US troops died in April 2017.

Later that month, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal – a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) also known as the ‘Mother Of All Bombs’ – on a key ISIS-K cave and tunnel system in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Around 100 of their troops perished.

A series of drone strikes then wiped out both of Hasib’s successors, Abu Sayed and Abu Saad Orakzai, and roughly 80 per cent of the group’s troops, reducing their estimated strength from between three and four thousand to under 800 followers by the end of 2018.

Yet like so many militant groups in the benighted history of Afghanistan, they have since proved almost impossible to eliminate completely.

The deaths of successive leaders have ended up being largely symbolic, since they have been quickly replaced by experienced peers shipped in from other ISIS strongholds.

New foot-soldiers have been recruited via slick propaganda videos outlining its global aspirations to create an Islamist caliphate across Asia, governed by Sharia law, before eventually ‘[raising] the banner of al-Uqab above Jerusalem and the White House’.

An ISIS-K leader identified as Abu Haidar is pictured with his seven fighters in an undated image. The men were all killed during a clash with the Afghan forces in Nangarhar province, the heartland of ISIS-K

An ISIS-K leader identified as Abu Haidar is pictured with his seven fighters in an undated image. The men were all killed during a clash with the Afghan forces in Nangarhar province, the heartland of ISIS-K

This ambition equates to the defeat of both Israel and the United States (and therefore the imposition of their twisted view of life on those countries). 

The group’s current leader is believed to be Shahab al-Muhajir, also known as Sanaullah. 

A United Nations report published in February said that he took over in June 2020.

The communiqué announcing the appointment, written in Arabic and translated into Pashto, referred to al-Muhajir as an experienced military leader and one of the ‘urban lions’ of ISIL-K in Kabul who had been ‘involved in guerrilla operations and the planning of suicide and complex attacks.’

While Sanaullah’s reign may be bad news for Afghans, he’s currently thought to have little to no capacity for mounting terror attacks in the West.

He is instead focusing on a mission to rid Afghanistan and other parts of its home territory of foreign ‘crusaders’ who ‘proselytize Muslims’ as well as ‘apostates’.

That in turn may explain why America is so anxious to withdraw from Kabul: once US troops are home, they are no longer in his organisation’s firing line.

For the Afghans left behind, escaping ISIS-K’s reign of terror will not be nearly so simple.



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