Shahab al-Muhajir

Shahab al-Muhajir is the U.S.-designated current emir of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), ISIS’s affiliate in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, ISIS-K has become a prominent threat in the region, launching a series of high-casualty attacks targeting American nationals, the Taliban, and minority Afghan groups.“Letter dated 21 January 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2021, https://undocs.org/en/S/2021/68. On November 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of State designated al-Muhajir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) for his role in approving ISIS-K operations throughout Afghanistan and arranging funding to conduct operations.“Taking Action Against ISIS-K,” U.S. Department of State, November 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/taking-action-against-isis-k/.

Not much is known about al-Muhajir. Although the U.S. State Department reports that al-Muhajir is from Afghanistan, some media sources believe that he is Iraqi given his surname.“Taliban Size Up Threat From Tenacious Islamic State-Khorasan,” Voice of America, November 3, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-size-up-threat-from-tenacious-islamic-state-khorasan/6299399.html; Bilal Sarwary, Twitter, June 14, 2020, https://twitter.com/bsarwary/status/1272207814325350402. According to the United Nations, al-Muhajir was allegedly appointed by ISIS central as the leader of ISIS-K since at least June 2020. In a statement released by ISIS, al-Muhajir is reportedly an experienced military leader, and was one of the “urban lions” of ISIS-K in Kabul who assisted in planning and carrying out guerilla operations along with suicide and complex attacks. Prior to his appointment by ISIS central, al-Muhajir was allegedly a mid-level commander in the Haqqani Network, the Taliban’s radical militant wing. Accordingly, while affiliated with the Haqqani Network, al-Muhajir provided “key expertise and access to networks,” that was beneficial to ISIS-K following the insurgent group’s loss of territory and senior leadership figures.“Letter dated 21 January 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2021, https://undocs.org/en/S/2021/68.

As the leader of ISIS-K, al-Muhajir allegedly directs a number of sleeper cells throughout Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, where he and his deputy, Salahuddin, are based. Al-Muhajir is also the chief of ISIS’s Al-Sadiq office which seeks to promote ISIS’s agenda in Central and South Asia. The Al-Sadiq office covers the entire Khorasan region that includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Central Asian States.“Letter dated 21 January 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2021, https://undocs.org/en/S/2021/68. Given al-Muhajir’s role in ISIS-K, the U.S. State Department designated al-Muhajir as an SDGT on November 22, 2021.“Taking Action Against ISIS-K,” U.S. Department of State, November 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/taking-action-against-isis-k/.

ISIS-K claimed its first attack on Afghan forces in September 2015 when it killed three policemen at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan.Rahim Faiez and Lynne O’Donnel, “IS loyalists kill 3 police in first attack on Afghan forces,” Associated Press, September 27, 2015, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4407127095a4444ab25ac5d71dc86b9d/afghan-official-islamic-state-fighters-kill-3-police. The group has since continued to carry out deadly attacks and threatens the region.Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Isis in Afghanistan: ‘Their peak is over, but they are not finished,’” Guardian (London), November 18, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/18/isis-in-afghanistan-their-peak-is-over-but-they-are-not-finished. Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, ISIS-K launched two bombings and a shooting at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 26. The attack killed as many as 170 people and 13 U.S. service members were killed, with an additional 200 wounded.Jamie Johnson and Catherine Neilan, “Afghanistan explosion: At least 13 feared dead in double bomb attack at Kabul airport,” Telegraph, August 26, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2021/08/26/afghanistan-threat-attack-kabul-airport-severe-imminent-warns/; Yuliya Talmazan, Mushtaq Yusufzai, Courtney Kube and Andrea Mitchell, “Multiple U.S. service members killed in explosions outside Kabul airport amid evacuations,” NBC News, August 26, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/high-threat-terror-attack-disrupts-kabul-airport-evacuations-biden-deadline-n1277670; Yaroslav Trofimov, Sune Engel Rassmussen, and Vivian Salama, “Kabul Airport Explosions Kill Four U.S. Marines, at Least 60 Afghans,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/afghanistan-kabul-airport-explosion-11629976397; “Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly Kabul airport attack,” Reuters, August 26, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/islamic-state-claims-responsibility-kabul-airport-attack-2021-08-26/; Claire Parker, “World leaders, Taliban condemn attack near Kabul airport,” Washington Post, August 26, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/26/afghanistan-kabul-taliban-live-updates/; “Afghanistan Live Updates: Flights Resume at Kabul Airport After Deadly Attack,” New York Times, August 27, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/27/world/afghanistan-taliban-biden-news. ISIS-K has since then carried out high-casualty attacks targeting Shiite mosques as well as former and current Taliban officials.

Although the Taliban has asserted that they will take on defeating ISIS-K themselves, ISIS-K has continued to carry out high casualty attacks. According to regional analysts, al-Muhajir has placed “a renewed emphasis on urban warfare and symbolic violence.”“Taliban Size Up Threat From Tenacious Islamic State-Khorasan,” Voice of America, November 3, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-size-up-threat-from-tenacious-islamic-state-khorasan/6299399.html. ISIS-K has regularly targeted the minority Shiite community in Afghanistan, and in October, the group conducted two suicide bombings against Shiite mosques. One attack killed 43 at the Shiite Sayed mosque in Kunduz, and the other attack killed 47 at the Imam Barga mosque, the largest Shiite mosque in Kandahar.Clarissa Ward, Tim Lister and Ehsan Popalzai, “Blast targeting Kabul mosque leaves 'a number of civilians dead,' Taliban spokesman says,” CNN, October 4, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/03/asia/kabul-afghanistan-blast-intl/index.html; Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Wali Arian, “ISIS Bomber Kills Dozens at Shiite Mosque in Northern Afghanistan,” New York Times, October 8, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/08/world/asia/afghanistan-mosque-attack.html.

Under the leadership of al-Muhajir, the United Nations suspects ISIS-K will continue to undertake terrorist attacks, specifically in Kabul, provincial capitals, and urban areas in the east of Afghanistan.“Letter dated 21 January 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2021, https://undocs.org/en/S/2021/68.

Also Known As
  • Sanaullah“Letter dated 21 January 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2021, https://undocs.org/en/S/2021/68.
  • Sanaullah Ghafari“Taking Action Against ISIS-K,” U.S. Department of State, November 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/taking-action-against-isis-k/.
  • Dr. Shaab Al MuhajirBilal Sarwary, Twitter, June 14, 2020, https://twitter.com/bsarwary/status/1272207814325350402.

Extremist entity
ISIS
Type(s) of Organization:
Insurgent, territory-controlling, religious, terrorist, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, jihadist, pan-Islamist, Salafist, takfiri
Position(s):
Emir of ISIS-K

ISIS is a violent jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria. The group has declared wilayas (provinces) in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. ISIS has also waged attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Kuwait.

  • Designations

United States

  • On November 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of State designated Sanaullah Ghafari as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) for his role in ISIS-K.“Taking Action Against ISIS-K,” U.S. Department of State, November 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/taking-action-against-isis-k/.

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