The regional chief of the ultra-extremist Islamic State militant group, Hafiz Saeed Khan, has been killed in an air strike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, the country’s intelligence agency revealed on Saturday.
Last year, IS, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish, had appointed Khan, who previously led the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Orakzai Agency, as the group’s chief for the self-styled Khorasan region – which includes north-western parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and some adjoining regions.
He is the second top Dai’sh leader to have been eliminated in Nangarhar in three days. IS spokesman Shahidullah Shahid and more than 20 other IS militants were killed in the province on Thursday.
“Based on NDS [National Directorate of Security] intelligence, Hafiz Saeed, the leader of IS in so-called Khorasan state, was killed in an air strike in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Friday night,” said the spy agency. “The NDS had passed on information to foreign forces about a meeting of IS leaders in the area. The coalition forces struck Hafiz Saeed Khan and his colleagues.”
Twenty-nine other militants were killed in the offensive, read the NDS statement posted online. However, a man claiming to be an IS spokesperson for Bajaur Agency called The Express Tribune from Afghanistan to dispute the spy agency’s claim.
“Our Ameer sahib is alive and I talked to him five minutes ago,” said the spokesman, who introduced himself as Shahidullah Shahid. When asked about his name, the spokesman said: “All our spokespersons will use the name of Shahidullah Shahid as per our policy.”
He also confirmed that “our central spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has been killed in an air strike by Americans, British and foreign forces”.
All top leaders dead
With Hafiz Saeed Khan out of the picture, all top Dai’sh leaders that were nominated for the Khorasan region by self-proclaimed IS caliph Abu Bakr alBaghdadi have been killed in air strikes.
In February a US spy aircraft had killed Abdul Rauf Khadim, Khan’s second-in-command, in southern Afghanistan. Khadim, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate and senior Afghan Taliban leader, had joined Dai’sh earlier this year.
“Afghan security forces will continue their fight against all terrorist groups in accordance with their commitment,” said the NDS.
The killing of two top Dai’sh leaders in Afghanistan indicates that most of the Pakistani militants have fled to the neighbouring country after Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched against them in the tribal region.
From TTP to Da’ish
In October 2014 Hafiz Saeed Khan led a group of five senior TTP leaders to jump ship and swear allegiance to Baghdadi.
A few days after Khan had parted ways with the Taliban, a TTP leader told The Express Tribune that the militant leader was considered a hardliner among the terrorist group, as he had been pushing for a more sectarian agenda.
He has been taken out at a time when IS fighters have been involved in severe clashes with the Taliban in several parts of Nangarhar.
Afghan security officials said on Friday that more than 200 IS and Taliban fighters had been killed in the province as a result of the clashes over the past few months.
According to Nangarhar police chief Fazal Ahmad Sherzad, most Dai’sh fighters are former members of the Afghan Taliban. “The IS has lost more fighters in clashes with the Taliban than for any other reason.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2015.