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IS-Khorasan Leader in Alleged Audio Message Discusses Afghanistan Losses

Fighters with ISIS-Khorasan, the affiliate in Afghanistan, vow allegiance to a new Islamic State leader in this photo issued Nov. 5, 2019, by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Fighters with ISIS-Khorasan, the affiliate in Afghanistan, vow allegiance to a new Islamic State leader in this photo issued Nov. 5, 2019, by the SITE Intelligence Group.

An official pro-Taliban media outlet in Afghanistan has released an alleged audio clip of the leader of the local affiliate of Islamic State in which the man acknowledges his group's significant recent losses.

"Only a few of our comrades are left, and their number can be counted on the fingers," Shahab al-Muhajir, the so-called emir of IS-Khorasan, said in Pashto language in a message to his group.

The militant commander also spoke about the killings of key leaders in recent Taliban counterterrorism operations against IS-Khorasan hideouts in the capital of Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The al-Mersaad state-affiliated channel, which released the audio, is working to counter IS-Khorasan terrorist propaganda, according to Taliban officials.

There has been no comment from IS-Khorasan on the alleged audio clip attributed to its leader.

VOA has not independently confirmed the speaker's identity.

Taliban security sources tell VOA the audio clip is that of al-Muhajir, whose real name is Sanaullah Ghafari, and said that he is a resident of Kabul.

Abdul Sayed, a Sweden-based independent researcher on jihadists, said that Islamic State official sources had never released any audio message from al-Muhajir until now.

“But his voice resembles the Pashto dialect of his native area in Kabul. However, he uses words from the Pashto dialect of the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar or the adjacent tribal belt of neighboring Pakistan,” Sayed said of the audio clip released by the Taliban.

“Secondly, this audio reflects the ground realities. The Taliban GDI recently killed several senior IS-K commanders, and al-Muhajir expressed concerns over the leadership losses in Afghanistan,” the researcher said in written comments to VOA. By GDI, he was referring to the General Directorate of Intelligence, the Taliban-led Afghan spy agency.

Sayed noted that al-Muhajir had named a slain IS-K commander, Mualawi Muhammad, also known as Mualawi Ziauddin, in the audio and declared his death "a heavy loss" for the group. The Taliban killed Ziauddin in an operation in the northern Afghan province of Balkh on March 26.

Meanwhile, the spy agency late Sunday also reported the arrest of a key IS-Khorasan operative, Ainuddin Muhammad.

The GDI released a purported video confession of the detainee, saying he played a central role in organizing high-profile attacks in northern Afghanistan last month. They included a suicide bombing that killed the Taliban governor of Balkh province. Muhammad reportedly confessed that he was recruited by IS-Khorasan in Iran.

The Taliban are the sworn enemies of IS-Khorasan and have reported significant successes against the militants in recent counterterrorism operations.

Many of those reported gains have not been independently verified.

Late last month, the GDI announced the killing of three central IS-Khorasan commanders, including Ziauddin, the second highest-ranked member of the group.

Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA’s Afghan service in an interview last week that since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, their security forces have arrested and imprisoned up to 1,700 IS-Khorasan militants and killed close to 1,100 others.

It was not possible to verify the Taliban's claims from independent sources.

In an interview aired Monday by Taliban-controlled state television, Mujahid rejected recent assertions by the United States that IS-Khorasan is gaining strength in Afghanistan and could soon launch attacks beyond its borders.

"Some countries that say Daesh has become more active and a threat to the world after six months, this is nothing but propaganda that we reject," said Mujahid. He did not name any country. Daesh is a local name for IS-Khorasan.

Last month, a top U.S. military commander told a congressional hearing that IS-Khorasan was eyeing the West and could launch an attack from Afghan bases before the year is out.

"They can do external operations against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning," said Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command overseeing U.S. troops in the region.