ISLAMABAD -- The recent killing of a commander of the Khorasan branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS-K) has dealt a major blow to the group, say Pakistani authorities.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) on May 14 killed Hasan Shah, an ISIS-K commander, alongside a would-be-suicide bomber in an intelligence-based operation in the Pishtakhara area of Peshawar, according to CTD officials.
Shah, 28, masterminded a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar in March that killed more than 64 worshippers and was operating an ISIS-K network, said a CTD official on the condition of anonymity.
Shah was profiled in a recent issue of Al-Naba, ISIS's central weekly newsletter, for his actions in the region, marking his relative importance in ISIS's organisation structure, said the official.
Shah was previously associated with proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) before joining ISIS-K, he added.
ISIS's top leadership formed its Khorasan chapter for Pakistan and Afghanistan in July 2014.
ISIS-K has a large number of former members of TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), another proscribed militant outfit, said Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based researcher who monitors militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"Although many TTP militants have ended their affiliation with ISIS-K, a large number from Bajaur, Orakzai, and Peshawar districts and LeJ factions are still associated with the transnational terror group," Ahmed said.
There have been warnings Afghanistan could become a recruiting ground and staging post for militants since the fall of the Afghan government in August.
The would-be suicide bomber who was killed along with Shah was an Afghan national of Tajik ethnicity, according to CTD officials.
The suicide bomber responsible for the March attack in Peshawar was also an Afghan national in his 30s who had moved to Pakistan decades ago.
Pakistani authorities are conducting an ongoing crackdown on ISIS-K in the country, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, as part of an effort to stave off potential security threats following the collapse of the previous government in neighbouring Afghanistan in August last year.
On March 8, the KP's CTD killed three ISIS-K militants during an intelligence-based operation in the Jamrud area of Khyber district, a Pakistani district that borders the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.
Those killed were involved in a number of terror attacks, including the killing of two religious leaders, Sheikh Abdul Hameed and Qari Sheikh Muhammad, and a Sikh trader over the past two years, said police.
Pakistani authorities earlier on December 29 announced that law enforcement agencies had broken up five major ISIS-K groups in KP province in 2021.
The groups included three in the Peshawar region and two in the Bannu division, Javed Iqbal Wazir, a senior CTD official in Peshawar, said at that time.
In another operation in Mastung in September, security forces killed ISIS-K commander Mumtaz Ahmed, also known as Pehalwan, who masterminded a 2018 election rally bombing that killed more than 150 people and injured hundreds in the district.
The crackdown also comes amid recent attacks claimed by ISIS-K.
ISIS-K on May 15 claimed responsibility for the killing of two Sikh traders in Peshawar.
The two assailants were riding a motorcycle when they opened fire on the victims -- Kanwaljeet Singh, 42, and Ranjeet Singh, 38 -- who owned spice shops in the bazaar.
ISIS-K also claimed the killing of Mufti Bashir Muhammad Jan, a religious scholar affiliated with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl religious party, in Bajaur district’s Mamond area on April 26.
In March, ISIS-K also said it attacked a military convoy in Balochistan province’s Sibi district, killing seven military personnel.
In Pakistan, ISIS-K has sought to instigate sectarian strife by targeting Muslim minorities, such as Shia and Sufis.