By Asad Hashim
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani Taliban breakaway faction that claimed responsibility for the bombing of a hospital last week said on Tuesday it had no links with Islamic State, whose leadership also said it was behind the attack.
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, which briefly declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2014, said in an audio statement that its fight was solely against the Pakistani state and that linking it to trans-national Islamist militant networks was wrong.
“We want to make it clear that our movement has no connection to Daesh or al Qaeda,” the group’s leader, Omar Khalid Khorasani said, using the Arabic acronym “Daesh” to refer to Islamic State.
“Those in Daesh or al Qaeda or any other mujahideen movement are our Muslim brothers. But we do not have any organizational link with any of them. With Daesh and al Qaeda we have never had an organizational link before, and even today we have no organizational link with them,” Khorasani said.
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar claimed responsibility within hours for the suicide bomb in the southwestern city of Quetta that killed more than 70 people, most of them lawyers, on Aug. 8. Later, Islamic State, based in Iraq and Syria, also claimed responsibility.
That heightened fears that IS had gained a firmer foothold in Pakistan, a country of 190 million people where a myriad of local militant outfits exist with the means of launching major attacks.
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, behind a series of bombings including in a public park in Lahore in March, has never specifically disavowed Islamic State before. Khorasani made no mention of the Quetta bombing in the audio message released on Tuesday.
The group, designated a “global terrorist” group by the United States earlier this month, emerged in 2014 after Khorasani, the Pakistani Taliban commander in the Mohmand tribal area, broke off to form his own organization.
In the statement, Khorasani said his group had no intention of fighting to install Islamic law beyond Pakistan. He also said that there were no Islamic State fighters present in the areas where his fighters were operating, largely along the lawless border with Afghanistan in Pakistani tribal areas.
Islamic State has been trying to expand its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan as its territory shrinks in Syria and Iraq but faces competition from local militants.
Security officials and analysts say that Islamic State remains – for now – more of a “brand name” in South Asia than a cohesive militant force in much of the region.
(Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Richard Balmforth)