Islamabad: A major Pakistani militant group worked with the Islamic State to carry out a huge raid on a police academy in the country's southwest this week that left more than 60 dead, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The claim appears to confirm analysts' predictions that the Middle East based group, which had previously struggled to gain traction in Pakistan, is now building links with local outfits as its key rival al-Qaeda loses ground.
Pakistani authorities said the attack on the Balochistan Police College, the deadliest assault on a security installation in the country's history, was carried out by the Al-Alami faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) group, an anti-Shiite outfit that has turned its guns on the government in recent years.
It was also claimed by the Islamic State group, which released photographs of the attackers -- one of whom bore a strong resemblance to a fighter who was killed by security forces in the attack.
Asked whether the two had worked together, Ali bin Sufyan, a spokesman for LeJ Al-Alami, said "Yes, of course," adding: "We are ready to work with all the groups in Pakistan wether they belong to ISIS or al-Qaeda".
LeJ is also affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban who in turn pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda -- their main financial backers during the early years of their insurgency.
Pakistan has carried out major military offensives against these groups in its border tribal regions that have sapped their strength and their ability to carry out attacks.
"The militant groups including al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban have been completely dismantled and those left out are now regrouping and attempting to become part of IS," a security official based in the southwestern city of Quetta said requesting not to be named.
"But IS has not nominated any specific group as its franchise or affiliate in Pakistan and different militant groups are trying to use this open window which sometimes creates a competition of sorts," he said.
The vacuum has created opportunities for IS to step in and develop new relationships with local jihadists, a militant source said.
"Al Qaeda is no longer focused in Pakistan like it used to be, its leaders have either been killed or shifted to Yemen and local jihadists have no better option but to look towards Daesh (IS)."
Pakistan's military last month admitted for the first time that the Islamic State group had a presence in the country but added it had detained hundreds of its militants and prevented them from carrying out major attacks....