Afghan forces bust 'ISIS-Haqqani' cell blamed for deadly attacks

An Afghan security officer stands guard in the outskirts of Kabul.
An Afghan security officer stands guard in the outskirts of Kabul.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's intelligence agency said on Wednesday (May 6) it had busted a joint ISIS-Haqqani network cell it accused of carrying out several attacks, including a deadly raid on a Sikh temple in Kabul.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) said in a statement that five militants were killed and eight others arrested when security forces stormed two hideouts of the group - one in Kabul and the other outside the capital.

"This joint cell of Daesh and Haqqani network had carried out major attacks in the capital, including an attack on a Sikh temple in March," the NDS said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

At least 25 people were killed when gunmen stormed the temple in Kabul where worshippers were offering morning prayers.

The attack was claimed by the ISIS in the Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghan branch of ISIS.

The ISIS-Haqqani cell was also behind a rocket attack that targeted the swearing-in ceremony of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the intelligence agency said.

The members of the cell had also killed several Afghan officials and fired rockets at Bagram, the US military's largest base in Afghanistan, the NDS said.

Afghan officials have long accused the Haqqani network, a US-designated terror group with ties to the Taleban, of carrying out major attacks claimed by or blamed on IS-K.

"There is undeniable evidence showing a strong link and cooperation between the Haqqani network and IS," a senior security official said on condition of anonymity.

"They jointly plan and carry out terrorist attacks, especially in Kabul."

Late last year, Afghan officials said IS-K had been completely defeated in Nangarhar, a key eastern province where it had first sought to establish a stronghold in 2015.

A senior security analyst said Afghanistan's intelligence agents have long believed that the Haqqanis were either aiding IS-K in carrying out attacks or actually carrying out attacks in their name.

"If they are now caught side by side in the same trench as the NDS says... this could be an alarming development," Mr Atiqullah Amarkhail, a former Afghan army general turned security analyst told AFP.

"It may indicate that even if the Taleban one day agrees to reduce or end violence, the actual violence perpetrated by more radical groups like Daesh and Haqqanis may continue."