Only a short while ago, the two groups were out of each other’s way – Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) over in Iraq and Syria, and the Taliban in its native Afghanistan and Pakistan.
However, as the June footage from the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar seems to indicate, the battle for Islamist supremacy is well underway there now.
“A horrific video was released yesterday showing kidnappers who associate themselves with Daesh [a derogatory term for IS] brutally martyring several white-bearded tribal elders and villagers with explosives,” the statement on the Taliban website read.
“This offence and other such brutal actions by a few irresponsible ignorant individuals under the guise of Islam and Muslims are intolerable,” said the group, which used to be known for its aggression against Western prisoners during the military campaign in Afghanistan.
The brutal video, which reveals the Afghan prisoners – including white-bearded community elders – kneeling over explosives that IS has dug into the ground, comes with a message in Arabic and Pashto which brands “apostates” the captives, who were caught during a battle in the region between IS, Taliban and Afghan government forces. The grotesque explosion then takes place. The video also comes with dramatic shots of Islamic State fighters riding horses into the mountains.
The Taliban’s own reputation for brutality was often shared with Al-Qaeda, until IS appeared on the scene – a former ally of Al-Nusra Front, which was Al-Qaeda’s particularly brutal and effective arm in Syria.
The two later split, the same way the IS also split from Al-Qaeda in February 2014, mostly over issues of tactics, mission and geographical strategy. Former leader Osama Bin Laden’s protégé and leader of Al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahri sought to distance himself from a group that was much too brutal even for Al-Qaeda’s tastes.
In June, Al-Qaeda’s American mouthpiece said atrocities being perpetrated by IS were utterly unspeakable, and would prevent perpetrators from entering ‘paradise’ if they continued to sin against their Muslim brothers and sisters.
Now, IS affiliates and followers have been steadily making their way into Afghan territory, challenging the Taliban and often weaning away the latter’s supporters to its own side.