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Volume 15, Issue 3A (June 2024)

ISKP Moving beyond Khorasan

Threats to the U.S.Homeland

by Amin Tarzi, PhD



Islamic State–Khorasan Province (ISKP), which officially emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 as an affiliate of Islamic State (IS), has not only reemerged as a terrorist threat within the historic or attributed boundaries of Khorasan but also stuck targets in Moscow, and individuals potentially aligned with ISKP were arrested in June 2024 in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia after crossing into the United States from Mexico.


ISKP and Khorasan

Initially, small groups of disgruntled Islamists in Afghanistan and Pakistan began to come together. They found common ground in their disenchantment with the Taliban’s Afghanistan-centric strategies, including its reconciliatory policies toward the Shi’a minorities and its seeking international support for a negotiated withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from the country. A year later, they coalesced into a single group—ISKP—and formally declared their intention to exercise authority over Khorasan. ISKP delineated the boundaries of Khorasan as encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Central Asian republics, and parts (or all) of Iran and India.1 Historically, the geographic term Khorasan referred to an area comprising northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan, all of Tajikistan, and most of Afghanistan. The term has had varying meanings to different ethnic, religious, and political organizations and groups. For “Islamists who seek to establish a global caliphate by force,” it is the region from which the Mahdi (messiah) will emerge, leading the “apocalyptic battle between Islam and its enemies.”2

During the height of its operational capacity in 2015–18, ISKP held tenuous control over territory and confronted forces of both the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and the Taliban. The success of the Taliban in defeating ISKP was one of the factors in its garnering support from Iran and Russia, both of which regarded ISKP as a direct threat to their interests and security. Taliban successes against ISKP and perhaps also against the U.S.-backed GIRoA prompted Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan, to state in 2016 that “Taliban interests objectively coincide with ours.”3 That same year, the Islamic Republic of Iran began working to secure its border with Afghanistan with support from the Taliban.4


Expansion of ISKP’s Areas of Operations

After the total withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Afghanistan in 2021 and the victory of the Taliban over the GIRoA, with no foreign forces operational in the country, the Taliban exercised varying degrees of authority. However, according to a U.S. official, while the Taliban “have made progress combating [ISKP] . . . they have struggled to dismantle [ISKP]’s clandestine urban cells and prevent attacks on soft targets.”5 These soft targets extend beyond Afghanistan, but they are within ISKP’s understanding of Khorasan’s limits. In January 2024, the group struck in the Iranian city of Kerman during a memorial for the slain Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani, killing more than 90 and injuring more than 200 people. According to Tehran, the terrorist attack, one of the deadliest in the history of the Islamic Republic, was carried out by two Tajik nationals who had entered the country illegally the previous month.6 Additionally, in March 2024 the group attacked a concert hall outside Moscow—clearly outside Khorasan’s historical and current boundaries as understood by ISKP—killing 145 and injuring 550 people.7 ISKP has also claimed responsibility for terrorist strikes in the Dagestan republic of Russia in June 2024, in which at least 20 people were killed.8


Threats against the United States

In alarming statements echoing the warnings of U.S. intelligence community leaders in early 2000, Christopher A. Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said that, following the 7 October 2023 attacks on Israel by Hamas, “we’ve seen the threat from foreign terrorists rise to a whole ‘nother [sic] level.” His warnings have been backed by the commander of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Army general Michael E. Kurilla, whose area of responsibility includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan—countries where ISKP has most of its members.9 In June 2024, eight Tajik nationals who had entered the United States illegally through its southwestern border with Mexico were arrested in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. While no direct link to ISKP has been made and there have been no specific plots linked to these individuals, actions attributed to ISKP members from Tajikistan in Kerman and Moscow make the illegal presence of these individuals in the United States alarming. 


Threat Prevention

The Taliban were not, nor have they become, interested in international violence. However, since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States has not seen a decline in terrorist threats. Within Afghanistan, and with very little direct U.S. involvement with the Taliban government in Kabul, options for threat mitigation and prevention against the United States and its allies are very limited. As expected, ISKP remains active in Afghanistan and is demonstrating its ability to strike far outside of Khorasan.10 Beyond vigilance at entry points to the United States, U.S. Army general Mark A. Milley, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested in 2021 that Washington to consider a limited intelligence-sharing deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Under this scheme, the United States would offer the Taliban information about ISKP’s activities inside Afghanistan in exchange for information on potential activities by the group outside Afghanistan.11 However, should the Taliban be open to any intelligence sharing deal with the United States, it would be a tacit de facto recognition of the regime. The United States needs to determine which is worse: the threat posed by ISKP or granting legitimacy to the Taliban. While the latter is unfavorable, it is worth noting that the Taliban is gradually gaining that legitimacy in the international sphere anyway.



  1. Amin Tarzi, “Islamic State–Khurasan Province,” in The Future of ISIS: Regional and International Implications, ed. Feisal al-Istrabadi and Sumit Ganguly (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018), 119–48.

  2. Tarzi, “Islamic State–Khurasan Province,” 124.

  3. Tarzi, “Islamic State–Khurasan Province,” 137.

  4. Yochi Dreazen, “Exclusive: Iran Teams with Taliban to Fight Islamic State in Afghanistan,Foreign Policy, 26 May 2016.

  5. Clayton Thomas, Terrorist Groups in Afghanistan (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2024).

  6. “Iran Says It Arrested 35 People in Relation to Deadly Kerman Attacks,” Reuters, 11 January 2024.

  7. Graham Allison and Michael J. Morell, “The Terrorism Warning Lights Are Blinking Red Again: Echoes of the Run-Up to 9/11,” Foreign Affairs, 10 June 2024.

  8. Francesca Ebel and Robyn Dixon, “After Attack in Dagestan, Russian Officials Minimize Islamic State Claim,” Washington Post, 24 June 2024.

  9. Allison and Morell, “The Terrorism Warning Lights Are Blinking Red Again.”

  10. Julian D. Alford and Amin Tarzi, “The Need for an Enduring U.S. Military Presence in Afghanistan,” Diplomat, 11 September 2020.

  11. Allison and Morell, “The Terrorism Warning Lights Are Blinking Red Again.”


Amin Tarzi is the director of Middle East Studies at Marine Corps University, an adjunct professor of government and international relations at George Mason University, and a senior fellow in the Program on the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of either Marine Corps University or any other governmental agency.

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