ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A Pakistani militant group said it cooperated with Islamic State to carry out a deadly nighttime attack on a police academy in the southwestern city of Quetta, demonstrating how the group based in Iraq and Syria can operate in new territory.
Islamic State claimed it carried out the attack—a sign that while the group is losing ground in the Middle East, it is looking to go on the offensive in South Asia, alongside local jihadist organizations. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for other recent attacks in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In Monday night’s assault, three militants armed with guns and suicide vests stormed a dormitory filled with police cadets, killing more than 60 people and injuring scores of others. The head of the provincial paramilitary force blamed the assault on the local group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Alami. One security official said it appeared the group had worked with others. “This war is ongoing, and it will continue,” Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.
Ali bin Sufyan, a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Alami, on Tuesday told The Wall Street Journal that it had provided Islamic State with assistance in carrying out the attack, as their goals coincided for this operation, although Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Alami hadn’t pledged allegiance to the foreign militant group.
Last month, Pakistani security forces said they had detained 300 Islamic State operatives and sympathizers. At the time, the military’s spokesman, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, said that the whole network was caught. Pakistan has played down the possibility of an organized Islamic State presence in the country.
Pakistani militants said that, as yet, Islamic State didn’t seem strong enough to operate on its own in Pakistan, but it could collaborate with other groups to pull off attacks.
Islamic State has an official branch based in eastern Afghanistan, which has claimed responsibility for attacks in that country and sought to recruit militants from other jihadist groups.
Islamic State in Afghanistan “is consolidating and militant factions in Pakistan are joining the caliphate bandwagon,” said Animesh Roul, executive director of research at the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict in New Delhi. He said the Afghan branch has become a hybrid group that works with other militant organizations.
Islamic State’s media arm published a photograph of three men it said carried out the attack in Quetta. After a July assault on a restaurant in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, ISIS released photos of the assailants as well as pictures of the carnage they had wrought.
In August, Islamic State and a faction of the Pakistani Taliban each claimed responsibility for a bomb attack outside a Quetta hospitalthat killed 72 people. Authorities say it’s unclear who carried out that attack.
Islamabad complains that Pakistani militants enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Afghanistan, with help from Afghan and Indian intelligence. But Pakistan’s military is also accused of supporting jihadist groups, including the Afghan Taliban, that target Afghanistan and India. All three countries reject the claims.