Sultan Aziz Azam

Sultan Aziz Azam was the U.S.-designated spokesperson 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 and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Azam as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and a Specially Designated National (SDN), respectively 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/; “Counter Terrorism Designations, Designations Updates and Designations Removals; Syria Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 22, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20211122.

Azam has allegedly held the role of ISIS-K spokesperson since the jihadist group was founded in Afghanistan in 2015.“Taking Action Against ISIS-K,” U.S. Department of State, November 22, 2021, https://www.state.gov/taking-action-against-isis-k/; 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; 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. Previously, Azam was reportedly a journalist and poet who gained popularity throughout Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar. However, following Azam’s appointment as ISIS-K spokesperson, media sources allege he “calls and threatens his former friends about IS beheading reporters.”Bilal Sarwary, “Radio wars: Islamic State takes over the Afghan airwaves,” IRIN, January 31, 2017, https://www.refworld.org/docid/58909d2a4.html.

On December 23, 2018, the Afghan National Army (ANA) claimed that Azam was killed in a U.S. airstrike targeting an “IS hideout” in Nangarhar. According to a statement released by the ANA, Azam was “the mouthpiece of the hard-liner group for Afghanistan,” and was in charge of recruiting militants for high-profile attacks in urban areas throughout the country.“IS Spokesman in Afghanistan Killed in Drone Strike,” Radio Free Europe, December 27, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/is-spokesman-in-afghanistan-killed-in-drone-strike/29679645.html. Although the United States confirmed the death of Azam, the claims were not verified by ISIS-K.“Islamic State-Afghanistan Spokesman Killed in US Airstrike,” Voice of America, December 27, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/islamic-state-afghanistan-spokesman-silenced-in-us-airstrike/4718751.html.

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. Given Azam’s role in ISIS-K, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Azam as an SDGT and SDN, respectively 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/.

United States

On November 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of State designated Sultan Aziz Azam 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/.

On November 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated Sultan Aziz Azam as a Specially Designated National (SDN) for his role in ISIS-K.“Counter Terrorism Designations, Designations Updates and Designations Removals; Syria Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 22, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20211122.

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On May 23, 2016, two suicide bombings at a military base in Aden, Yemen, killed at least 45 army recruits and injured approximately 60 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.   

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