Terror group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), responsible for more than 100 "cross-border" attacks within three months last year, oversaw a "reunification" of splinter groups that took place in Afghanistan and was moderated by al-Qaeda, a development that was expected to increase the threat to Afghanistan and the region, a UN report has said.
The 27th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said TTP was reported to have overseen a reunification of splinter groups that took place in Afghanistan and was moderated by al-Qaeda.
"This was expected to increase the threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region," it said, adding that five entities pledged alliance to TTP in July and August, including the Shehryar Mehsud group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Hizb-ul-Ahrar, the Amjad Farooqi group and the Usman Saifullah group (formerly known as Lashkar-e- Jhangvi). "This increased the strength of TTP and resulted in a sharp increase in attacks in the region," the report said.
The report added that according to Member State assessments, the TTP fighting strength range between 2,500 and 6,000. The report said that one Member State reported that TTP was "responsible for more than 100 cross-border attacks between July and October 2020."
Member States also expressed concern at the rising number of ISIL sympathizers in cyberspace in South Asia. The report said that 'Voice of Hind', the only regional ISIL English-language outlet, was started in early 2020 and is published regularly, and has followers in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The outlet is an arena for recruitment and operations. The UN report said the key Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) operative in the Maldives, Mohamed Ameen, is seeking to cultivate links with ISIL-K (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - Khorasan (ISIL-K), which is consistent with the Al-Sadiq office objective of enhancing cooperation across the region.
The Team continues to study divergent information from Member States regarding ISIL-K activity in South Asia, in close consultation with Member States concerned and other interested parties, the report said.
In June 2020, Shahab al-Muhajir, also known as Sanaullah, was appointed by the ISIL core to lead ISIL-K. The communiqu~CHECK~ 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, the report said.
According to a Member State, al-Muhajir was also appointed chief of the Al-Sadiq office of ISIL, which covers the "Khorasan" region, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Central Asian States.
Another Member State reported that al-Muhajir had previously been a "mid-level commander in the Haqqani Network" and that he had maintained close cooperation with the entity, providing "key expertise and access to networks", which ISIL-K required following its loss of territory and senior leadership figures.
According to Member States, the current number of ISIL-K fighters has fallen to between 1,000 and 2,200. Despite its significant loss of territory, ISIL-K has not been entirely eradicated from the districts of Manogay, in Kunar, and Achin, in Nangarhar. Sleeper cells are active in other parts of the country, particularly in Kabul, where the current commander and his overall ISIL-K deputy Salahuddin are based.
The Team assesses that under al-Muhajir's leadership, and based on his expertise, ISIL-K will continue to undertake terrorist attacks, predominantly in Kabul, provincial capitals and urban areas in the east of Afghanistan.
Further, in the report Member States report little evidence of significant changes in relations between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "al-Qaeda assesses that its future in Afghanistan depends upon its close ties to the Taliban, as well as the success of Taliban military operations in the country."
The overall number of members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan is currently estimated at between 200 and 500, spread across at least 11 Afghan provinces: Badakhshan, Ghazni, Helmand, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Logar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktiya and Zabul.
"The killing of several al-Qaeda commanders in Taliban-controlled territory underscores how close the two groups are," the report said, adding that in October, al-Qaeda media chief Husam Abd al-Ra''uf, also known as Abu Muhsen al-Masri, was killed in Andar district of Ghazni Province.
In November, a deputy of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Mohammad Hanif, also known as Abdullah, was killed in Bakwah district of Farah Province, where, according to a Member State, "he had been providing bomb-making training to Taliban insurgents". Both appear to have been given shelter and protection by the Taliban. Further evidence of close relations between the groups was the release of the wife of the late Asim Umar, a former AQIS leader, who was among the more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners freed by the Government of Afghanistan in 2020, it said.
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