Islamic State eyes al-Qaeda lands

Propaganda video still showing leader of IS in Khorasan A still from a propaganda video showing the leader of IS in Khorasan, based around Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Islamic State (IS) group has forged links with militants across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, embracing regional franchises that have pledged allegiance to the group.

The latest branch was announced in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, on 26 January.

The first new branches beyond the group’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq were announced by IS leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi in November when he accepted pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Some of those pledges came from existing groups which went on to re-brand themselves as new IS “provinces”, or wilayat, such as the Egyptian Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and Algeria’s Jund al-Khilafah.

The most prolific branches have been those in Libya and Egypt, which have tapped into the IS media network to publish a steady flow of propaganda, highlighting attacks and publicising their attempts at governance.

Others have maintained a shadowy presence. For example, the IS Yemeni and Saudi provinces have yet to claim any activities or establish propaganda channels.

But the impact of the IS expansion has nevertheless been felt by its jihadist rivals in al-Qaeda, which has branches in many of the areas IS has moved into.


The IS branch in Egypt, Sinai Province, was essentially a re-branding of an existing group known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which first emerged in 2011 in the wake of the Egyptian revolution.

Logo for IS in Sinai based in EgyptLogo for IS in Sinai based in Egypt

Sinai is the highest-profile established jihadist group to be accepted into the fold by Baghdadi and has kept up the tempo of its operations following the change in November.

The group swiftly changed its name and re-branded its media to reflect the new affiliation, adopting a new logo reminiscent of IS branches in Syria and Iraq.

Its activities are focused on the Sinai Peninsula but it has also claimed attacks in Cairo and Egypt’s western desert, suggesting it might have some ability to link up with the IS branch in Libya.


The Libyan branch of IS has been the most active since it was formally embraced in November and its propaganda output has most closely resembled that of IS branches in Syria and Iraq.

Three distinct Libyan IS “provinces” were announced in November – Barqah in the east, Tripoli in the west and Fazzan in the south.

Propaganda video still for branch of IS in Libya operating in TripoliThis still from a video promotes another IS in Libya group, with this one active in Tripoli

Since then, most activity has been centred on the country’s coastal strip, reflected in a steady stream of propaganda highlighting the group’s attempts at governance alongside brutal attacks and executions. Only one attack has been claimed by Fazzan Province.

Barqah Province, active mainly in the eastern urban centres of Darnah and Benghazi, appears to have grown out of the jihadist group Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam, which pledged allegiance to IS in October.

Map showing IS in Libya's claim over territoryThis IS propaganda map claims swathes of Libyan territory for the group

The branch’s highest-profile operation took place in the west – the 27 January attack on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, which left at least nine dead including five foreigners.


Little has been heard of the Algerian branch of IS since the pledge of allegiance from Jund al-Khilafah was accepted by Baghdadi in November.

Logo for IS in AlgeriaLogo for IS in Algeria

The group, which broke away from al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch (AQIM) last year, later restyled itself as the Algeria Province of IS.

The group rose to prominence in September when it beheaded French tourist Herve Gourdel.

But it has been largely silent since then, failing to comment on reports that its leader Khalid Abu-Sulayman (aka Abdelmalek Gouri) was killed by Algerian forces in December.

It has not claimed any activities.

Yemen and Saudi Arabia

IS drew the ire of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch (AQAP) when Al-Baghdadi unilaterally announced new “provinces” in Yemen and Saudi Arabia in November.

Although the new branches have not claimed any activities or set up any propaganda feeds, the move represents a symbolic challenge to al-Qaeda, which is competing for ascendancy in the leadership of the global jihad.

When IS originally declared its caliphate in Syria and Iraq in June 2014, al-Qaeda restricted itself to veiled criticism.

But the gloves came off after the expansion into al-Qaeda territories in November, with various al-Qaeda branches issuing angry and explicit condemnation.


The new Afghanistan-Pakistan branch of IS is the only franchise to have been formally announced since the November flurry of allegiances.

The leader of the new province is said to be Hafiz Sa’id Khan, a former Pakistan Taleban commander.

Two weeks earlier, Khan appeared in a video which showed 10 jihadist commanders from Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging allegiance to IS under his local leadership. That film included the beheading of a Pakistani soldier.

Commanders from Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging allegiance to Islamic StateCommanders from Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging allegiance to Islamic State

The new branch has taken the name Khorasan Province, after the historical term jihadists use to refer to the region, and covers Afghanistan, Pakistan and “other nearby lands”, according to IS.

The move amounts to another major challenge to al-Qaeda and the Taleban, which have been the main jihadist operators in the region.

Other regions

While IS has made no further declarations of new “provinces” elsewhere, there have been reports that other groups of jihadists around the world have pledged allegiance to IS.

The group recently signalled in its English-language magazine Dabiq that new announcements may be in the pipeline.

Graphics from new Boko Haram videoGraphics from new Boko Haram video

The November edition, issued after Baghdadi’s expansion declaration, acknowledged that other unnamed groups in the Caucasus, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria and elsewhere had also pledged allegiance and that IS had accepted them.

But it said further conditions needed to be met before new “provinces” were formally announced.

The mention of Nigeria could be a reference to Boko Haram, whose propaganda output has recently received a boost – apparently with help from IS media operatives.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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