Afghanistan’s security forces in two separate raids have busted a sleeper cell that was jointly run by the Afghan branch of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group and Haqqani network, the most ruthless branch of Taliban.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said five militants were killed and eight others detained when security forces stormed two hideouts – one in the capital Kabul and the other outside the city.
The cell had been involved in carrying out several deadly attacks on places of worship across the country.
“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.
In March, over two dozen people were killed when heavily-armed gunmen stormed the temple in Kabul where worshippers were offering morning prayers.
The attack was claimed by the IS-K, the Afghan branch of Daesh.
Sikhs are a small religious minority in Afghanistan. About 1,000 Sikhs and Hindus are estimated to reside in the overwhelmingly-Muslim country.
Also in 2018, a bomb attack targeting the Sikh community killed more than a dozen people in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Daesh claimed responsibility.
The Daesh-Haqqani cell was also behind a rocket attack that targeted the swearing-in ceremony of President Ashraf Ghani, the NDS 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.
Afghan officials have long accused the Haqqani network of carrying out major attacks claimed by or blamed on the IS-K.
Afghanistan’s intelligence agents have long believed that the Haqqanis were either aiding the IS-K in carrying out attacks or actually conducting 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,” said Atiqullah Amarkhail, a former Afghan army general-turned-security analyst.
“It may indicate that even if the Taliban one day agrees to reduce or end violence, the actual violence perpetrated by more radical groups like Daesh and Haqqanis may continue.”
Late last year, Afghan officials said the IS-K had been completely defeated in Nangarhar, a key eastern province where it had first sought to establish a stronghold in 2015.
The Haqqani network operates on both the Pakistani and Afghan side of the border. It has been behind some deadly attacks against civilians, security forces and NATO forces in the Afghan capital over the past decade.