The confession of a Pakistani teenager who was captured moments before carrying out a suicide attack has given police a rare glimpse into a militant network they say is behind the recent surge in sectarian violence.
Usman’s testimony describes a web of radical seminaries and training and bomb-making facilities stretching from eastern Afghanistan, where the young man was recruited, to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province.
Hundreds of people have died in attacks on Pakistan’s small Shi’ite community, heightening fears in the Sunni-dominated country of an escalation in sectarian bloodshed that has been a persistent threat for decades.
Pakistani police believe the network, which Usman says aided him on his 2,000 km journey, has also helped ISIS spread its extremist agenda in South Asia, even without proven operational links with its core in the Middle East.
The Pakistani network brings together several known jihadists belonging to extremist groups that have targeted religious minorities for decades, police said, providing fertile ground for Islamic State’s ideology to spread.
Usman’s confession does not name ISIS directly, but police say they believe the network that recruited and trained him was behind five deadly sectarian bombings in Pakistan, four of which were claimed by the group. “ISIS has no formal structure (in Pakistan). It works on a franchise system and that is the model that is being used in Pakistan,” senior counter terrorism department officer Raja Umer Khattab said. By that he said he meant ISIS could claim attacks as its own, even if it had no direct role in coordinating them.
Usman,18 at the time of the thwarted attack, is currently on death row in the town of Shikarpur, where he was caught. Originally from the Swat valley, his family fled to Nangarhar after his father, a member of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed in a drone strike. Usman came home one day to find his brother sitting with an older man. “My brother said you should join jihad ... become a suicide bomber,” he said.