NATO officials cast doubts over ISIS links to Jalalabad bombing
Published 22/04/2015 | 17:38
NATO forces in Afghanistan said they doubted that a recent suicide attack on the eastern city of Jalalabad was the work of Islamic State militants.
The bombing, in which at least 33 people were killed, was claimed by a spokesman pledging allegiance to ISIS locally in Afghanistan as "Daesh".
President Ashraf Ghani was quick to blame the group for the atrocity.
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Any direct involvement by Islamic State would mean the ultra-violent movement had spread beyond the Middle East and north Africa, and increase the challenge faced by Afghan forces already struggling to counter Taliban insurgents.
"We have not yet seen evidence of ISIS direction or support of the attacks," Lt. Col. Christopher Belcher, spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan.
"Jalalabad continues to be an area with significant Taliban influence, and this attack fits the pattern of past Taliban attacks in the region, underscoring that this attack does not represent a fundamental change in the security environment."
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A spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence also expressed doubt about links with Islamic State.
"I do not believe that it was carried out by Daesh," Brigadier General Dawlat Waziri said on Wednesday.
He added that the recently formed Islamic State of Khorasan, a old term to describe Afghanistan and Pakistan, was made up of small groups of Taliban fighters who had switched allegiance.
"We cannot ignore these forces, but they will not be as powerful as Daesh fighters in Syria and Iraq," Waziri said.
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The Taliban's official spokesman denied their forces were behind the Jalalabad bombing, although the movement ousted from power in the US-led war in 2001 often disavows attacks that kill large numbers of civilians.
It has also fragmented, with rivals emerging to its elusive leader, who has not been seen in years.
The Islamic State of Khorasan's ex-Taliban leaders were recognised by the Middle East-based IS leadership in a video released in January, but the new group is believed to receive little, if any, weapons, money or logistical support.
Islamic State's success in swiftly seizing Iraqi territory has inspired some Afghan militants to adopt its flag, but experts said Afghanistan differed from Iraq in ways that would make similar gains there unlikely.
For one, Afghanistan does not have such a deep and bitter sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, which ISIS has been able to exploit in Iraq.