On Monday, a suicide bomber struck a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, where a group of lawyers had gathered to protest the murder of the head of the Baluchistan Bar Association, killing at least 74 people. Responsibility for both the murder and the bombing was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) splinter group that also claimed responsibility for the horrific March attack in Lahore that targeted Christians celebrating Easter. Then the attack was claimed by ISIS, according to ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Both claims may be true. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has waffled over the past couple of years between maybe joining ISIS’s AfPak operation (“Khorasan Province”) and maybe reconciling with the main body of the TTP, from which it broke in September 2014. It is possible that the group has finally opted to go with ISIS, in which case Monday’s attack would be the group’s first in Pakistan.
As The New York Times notes in that piece I linked above, Baluchistan Province is saturated with terror groups:
For more than a decade, Baluchistan, a rugged and resource-rich province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, has been wracked by a separatist war, ethnic and sectarian violence and militant intrigue. Those fault lines come to a point in Quetta, a city of more than one million.
Quetta’s Hazara minority, which is mostly Shiite, has been targeted repeatedly by Sunni extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Political tensions between ethnic Pashtun and Baluch leaders have been another source of conflict. Additionally, the Afghan Taliban’s leadership is based in Quetta, and infighting, militant-driven assassinations and kidnappings have scarred the city.
If there were a place for ISIS to gain a foothold in Pakistan, it would be in Baluchistan, and if there were a group that might be amenable to becoming an ISIS franchise, it would be a group that thought the Pakistani Taliban wasn’t violent enough for them.
In possibly related news, it’s being reported that the US now believes that the leader of ISIS-Khorasan, Hafiz Saeed, presumably shown here:
was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province on July 26. ISIS has steadfastly denied all reports of his death since that strike, however, and it’s really only when the group acknowledges the death that you can assume reports like this are probably accurate. Saeed was similarly killed in a drone strike in July 2015, also in Nangarhar, and yet here we are wondering if he was killed in a July 2016 strike in the same place. So either this guy does some kind of weird mythological dying-and-resurrecting ritual every July in Nangarhar, or he’s been falsely reported as dead at least once and now possibly twice. I’d wait to pop open the champagne on this one, is what I’m trying to say.