Kabul gurdwara attack ‘mastermind’ arrested

Afghan Special Forces detained ISKP chief Mawlawi Aslam Farooqi in a ‘complex operation’

Afghanistan’s Special Forces on Saturday arrested Mawlawi Aslam Farooqi, a Pakistani national and the emir (chief) of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), the group that claimed the March 25 attack on a gurdwara in Kabul that killed 27 people, including an Indian.

Confirming the arrest, an Afghanistan official said on Saturday that the ISKP has strong links with “regional intelligence agencies”, hinting at a Pakistani hand in the terror group’s operation.

Javid Faisal, the spokesperson of the Office of the National Security Council in Afghanistan, said on Twitter, “#ISKP leader Abdullah Orakzai, a Pakistani national known as Aslam Farooqi, was detained in a complex operation by @NDSAAfghanistan special forces. In initial investigations, he has confessed of strong relationship between the Islamic State-Khurasan and regional intelligence agencies.”

Senior government officials in India maintain that the ISKP is run by Pakistan’s Inter-State Intelligence (ISI) and the arrest of Farooqi establishes it.

ISI link

“Farooqi was a small time militant commander who was active in Pakistan’s Khyber area. His rise in the ISKP leadership was made possible by the ISI,” said an official. Another official said that Farooqi was earlier associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

The gurdwara attack in Kabul was executed by a 29-year-old man from Kerala’s Kasargod — Muhammed Muhsin. He stormed into the gurdwara along with two others. As reported earlier, there are indications that another Indian — Sajid Kuthirummal, a shopkeeper from Kasargod who was among a group of 21 people who left India in 2016 to join the ISKP — could also have been part of the terror plot.

Mushin was killed in the encounter and the whereabouts of Sajid are not known yet.

A July 25, 2019 report published by a UN monitoring team said that Farooqi had replaced ISIL-Khorasan leader Mawlawi Zia ul-Haq in April the same year, referring to another acronym of the IS.

“In April, ISIL-K leader Mawlawi Zia ul-Haq, also known as Abu Omar Khorasani, was dismissed and replaced by Mawlawi Aslam Farooqi, who was previously in charge of operations in the Khyber Agency. Ul-Haq’s demotion was reportedly due to poor performance in the context of ISIL-K setbacks in Nangarhar in the second half of 2018. The new leadership nomination was made during a visit by an ISIL core delegation, underscoring the direct relationship between ISIL-K and the ISIL core in Iraq and Syria,” the report said.

There are other reports which said the leadership changed in 2018 after differences between Pashtun fighters led by Farooqi and ul-Haq’s group comprising fighters from Central Asian countries.

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