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ISKP resurface with Badakhshan attack killing Taliban acting governor

Days later, a second attack targeted a memorial ceremony held for the acting governor.


9 Jun 2023

Cover image: Google Earth This week, Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISKP) resurfaced after months of inactivity. The group claimed an explosion in Fayzabad, Badakhshan, on June 6, which reportedly killed Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi, the Taliban’s acting governor for the province, along with his driver. Six civilians were reportedly wounded. This was ISKP’s first attack since late March, when they claimed a suicide bombing near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul.

On June 8, reports emerged that a suicide bomber targeted a memorial ceremony held for the acting governor in Fayzabad. The attack was claimed by ISKP on June 9.  Taliban officials claimed at least 11 people were killed, including a former Taliban police official, and at least 30 people were wounded. Figures reported by media were higher. BBC Persian released footage showing the arrival of victims at the Fayzabad Regional Hospital, though verifiable information or content on the attack has been limited, meaning Afghan Witness (AW) has been unable to geolocate the second attack or verify reported casualty figures.

June 6: Badakhshan acting governor killed

On June 6, 2023, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was set off in Fayzabad, Badakhshan province, killing Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi, the Taliban’s acting governor for the province. ISKP later claimed the attack via Islamic State Central’s Amaq News Agency

An article by BBC Persian reported that the Taliban’s Head of Information and Culture in Badakhshan, Moazuddin Ahmadi, told reporters that the incident took place at around 08:00 local time as the governor was on his way to work. Moazuddin Ahmadi confirmed the death of Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi and his driver, and claimed that six other civilians were injured during the explosion.  

In media interviews following the explosion, several people described scenes from the attack and the resulting casualties, with some claiming they were injured or had family members who were wounded. A video shared on June 9 featured a clip of two male hospital patients with bandages on their heads, though they appeared to be in a stable condition.

Various social media users shared images of the attack’s aftermath. The photos showed a destroyed vehicle in the middle of the road. Next to the destroyed vehicle, it was possible to see a heavily damaged SUV, which was likely carrying Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi prior to the explosion. AW investigators geolocated the explosion to the main road running through Fayzabad. 

Figure: Geolocation of image showing the aftermath of the explosion in Fayzabad city, Badakhshan province, killing the Taliban’s acting governor for the province [37.113955, 70.566923]

According to the BBC Persian article, Moazuddin Ahmadi claimed a car loaded with explosives detonated as the vehicle transporting the acting governor drove past. The image below shows a destroyed red vehicle still on fire after the explosion. The damage observed in the photo is indicative of a large blast, likely due to a substantial amount of explosives being placed inside. 

A white Ford Ranger – damaged on the right side and the front – is also visible in the photos. The damage observed in the aftermath of the explosion seems to indicate the explosion targeted the right side of the white vehicle, where the passenger, allegedly the acting governor, was likely sitting.

Figure: Aftermath of the explosion showing the vehicle that was likely loaded with explosives (grey), and the car that was allegedly transporting Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi (pink).

Second attack targeting Ahmadi 

This was not the first time the Badakhshan acting governor was targeted. On July 1, 2022, the Badakhshan press office’s Facebook page issued a statement claiming Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi survived an attack the previous night. According to the press release, Ahmadi’s vehicle was ambushed in the Kazar area of Badakhshan’s Khash district, but no one was harmed.

On December 26, 2022, the Taliban’s Badakhshan Police chief, Mawlawi Abdul Haq, was killed in an ISKP-claimed VBIED attack, also in Fayzabad. The December attack occurred less than 900 meters away from the attack on June 6. 

Figure: Partial map of Fayzabad, Badakhshan, illustrating the location of two targeted attacks against high-ranking Taliban officials.

ISKP hint at unreleased footage 

On June 7, an Islamic State Telegram channel shared a poster displaying portraits of three high-ranking Taliban officials killed in separate ISKP attacks, as well as the dates on which they were killed. The individual on the left is Badakhshan Police chief, Abdul Haq, killed on December 26, 2022. In the middle is Balkh governor, Daud Muzamil, killed on March 9, 2023,  and on the right is Badakhshan acting governor, Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi, killed on June 6, 2023. 

Figure: Poster released by an Islamic State Telegram channel showing three high-profile Taliban officials killed by ISKP. Note: AW has redacted the title and statement.

There are additional images of the December 26 and June 6 Fayzabad attacks on the poster: on the left is a screenshot from the [WARNING: GRAPHIC] video released by ISKP following the attack that killed six Taliban fighters in December 2022. The image on the right matches the area from the attack that killed Ahmadi on June 6. As of June 9, ISKP had not released footage of the June 6 explosion, however, the screenshot indicates that there is further evidence of the premeditated attack.

Figure: Comparison of the image included in the poster released by ISKP and positioned underneath Ahmadi’s image (left), with screenshot of footage of the explosion’s aftermath on June 6 (right).

Taliban operations against ISKP 

The June 6 explosion marks ISKP’s first attack since the suicide bombing near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul on March 27, 2023. It continues a trend set in 2022, which saw ISKP shift from regular attacks to less frequent incidents with higher-profile targets. 

In recent months, the Taliban have intensified their operations against alleged Islamic State cells across Afghanistan, which has corresponded with a lull in IKSP-claimed activity. The Taliban have used the raids to promote a narrative of success against the group, and claim to have killed several senior ISKP figures. In early May, the Taliban claimed the Deputy Governor of the Islamic State Khorasan Division, named as “Engineer Omar”, was among ISKP fighters killed in Kabul, though AW has not been able to verify the claim. In April, it was reported that the Taliban killed the leader of the Islamic State cell responsible for the Kabul airport suicide bombing in August 2021. As with the other high-profile ISKP members the Taliban claim to have killed in recent months, there have been no further details or supporting evidence provided.

Taliban communications around the raids have pushed to demonstrate progress against ISKP and downplay the group’s threat – a narrative countered by a leaked Pentagon assessment in April, which suggested Afghanistan has once again become a staging ground for terrorism.

The June 6 attack displays the same modus operandi as the previous Fayzabad bombing, showing that despite continued Taliban raids on alleged Islamic State hideouts, the cells responsible for the attacks remain active. This is a trend AW previously observed in Herat. After several alleged Taliban raids against ISKP cells in the city, the cell responsible for the attacks continued operating, claiming high-ranking Taliban victims.

Use the Afghan Witness map to view verified data relating to ISKP attacks – and the Taliban’s raids and operations against the group. 

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