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IS Pamphlets in Pakistan Border Areas Try to Create Panic

FILE - Shi'ite Muslim women walk past a wall with portraits of the deceased, who were killed in a bombing in a residential area in March 2013, during the Shi'ite Youm Ali procession in Karachi, Pakistan, June 27, 2016.

Militant group Islamic State has threatened to target Shi’ites living in certain northern areas of Pakistan.

Hundreds of pamphlets containing threats have allegedly been distributed by IS in the Kurram agency on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line with Afghanistan, threatening attacks in specific tribal areas.

"We have achieved our goals in Afghanistan and are now ready to confront Shia renouncers in Pakistani's tribal areas," the IS pamphlet said in the local language, Pashto.

Although distributed in Sunni majority areas too, the pamphlet threatens to target Shi’ites in the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Dera Ismail Khan and Hangu cities in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The areas mentioned in the pamphlet are home to a considerable Shi’ite population.

VOA could not independently confirm the authenticity of the pamphlet.

A local government official acknowledged, on the condition of anonymity, that pamphlets were distributed, but said the government is investigating whether these came from IS or others. He said the areas mentioned in the pamphlets are under government control.

"We are on the front line of the war against militancy and, therefore, our security is tight," the official added.

Pakistan's military has been carrying out an operation to clear out militants in the region since 2014. The government is demanding local tribes in the region surrender their weapons to decrease militancy. The weapons surrender is part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Faqir Hussain, an elder of a Shi’ite tribe called Tori, expressed concern that the government is demanding Shi’ites in the region surrender their weapons while facing such threats.

"We would not have bought these weapons if we had no threat," Hussain told VOA's Deewa service. "I have told my tribe living on the border that they have to defend themselves."

FILE - A Shiiite student holds a placard during a protest against an attack by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar the previous day, in Karachi, Dec. 17, 2014.
FILE - A Shiiite student holds a placard during a protest against an attack by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar the previous day, in Karachi, Dec. 17, 2014.

The Tori tribe recently faced a suicide attack claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, which reportedly is supporting IS. Islamic State reportedly is attempting to establish a footprint in the Kurram agency and has been recruiting local men into its ranks.

Government action

The Pakistani government says it will take action against those involved in distributing the pamphlets.

"The government is going to take strict measures if IS has distributed pamphlets in Kurram agency and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," lawmaker Tahir Iqbal, who is a member of the ruling Muslim League party, told VOA. "The government will not spare anyone involved in printing or spreading hate material or pamphlets."

The terror group has also been active in parts of neighboring Afghanistan for the past two years. Kabul has said many of the IS fighters in Afghanistan belong to the Orokzai tribe in Pakistan.

Analysts say the military operation in the tribal areas of Pakistan has cleared out the top layer of militancy, but the sleeper cells and sympathizers still exist and have the capacity to plan and attack.

"It is almost impossible to fully prevent the spread of the group in the current circumstances," security analyst Said Nazir Mohmand, who is associated with the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies, told VOA. "Such groups can easily be eliminated if there is peace in Afghanistan."

Top foreign ministry officials from Russia, China and Pakistan met in Moscow in December to discuss what they said was a "gradually growing" threat to their frontiers posed by Islamic State extremists in Afghanistan.

VOA’s Madeeha Anwar and VOA’s Deewa service contributed to this report.