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ISLAMABAD, Nov 25, (AFP): A Pakistani sectarian militant faction says it is working with both Islamic State jihadists and al-Qaeda to carry out attacks in the country. Ali Bin Sufyan, a spokesman for the Al Alami faction of the homegrown Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) group, said the militants would work with “whoever will help us against the Pakistani army”.
The banned Sunni LeJ group has claimed responsibility for some of the most brazen attacks on minority Shiites in Pakistan’s recent history, but has turned its guns on the Pakistani government in recent years. Last year much of the LeJ top leadership was apparently wiped out in a gun battle with Pakistani police as authorities cracked down hard on the myriad insurgent groups that have plagued the country for decades. But the group appears to still be carrying out attacks, and the claim it is working with IS along with al-Qaeda exposes a worrying new trend
. “IS is under pressure in Syria and Iraq so it is forming a nexus with small militant groups in Pakistan and Bangladesh to assert its power and expand its profile,” security analyst Amir Rana told AFP. Sectarian groups such as LeJ are a “natural ally” for IS, he said. Officials deny Islamic State has a presence in Pakistan, but the Middle Eastern jihadist group has claimed responsibility for several major attacks in recent months, particularly in the restive province of Balochistan.
Last month militants carried out an assault on a police academy in the Baloch provincial capital Quetta, killing more than 60 people in an attack claimed both by Al Alami and IS, in an apparent demonstration of their collaboration. Sufyan said that any collaboration with groups such as IS was “restricted only to activities or operations in Pakistan”. The extent of any material support remains unclear, but affiliation with the notoriously brutal outfit brings the promise of a far higher profile.
The emergence of IS in Pakistan would be seen as a major blow to the country’s long-running and partly successful efforts to quell a homegrown Islamist insurgency, and comes as the group’s key rival al- Qaeda is losing strength in what was once its “home ground”. Sufyan also said his group supports a separatist movement in Balochistan, where nationalists have sought independence for decades, calling them “our brothers”.
AFP was unable to verify the statement with Baloch separatists, who have previously accused the Pakistani state of using LeJ as a proxy against them. But it was a rare example of a Pakistani Islamist militant group supporting the nationalist movement, and a further demonstration of the group’s pragmatic shift.