Islamabad, Apr 9: Senior Pakistani Taliban leaders, including its chief of a tribal region, today declared their allegiance to the dreaded Islamic State militant group, in a major setback to the banned outfit which is under attack by the Pakistani army in the country's northwest.
Islamic State (IS), also known as Daish, has been gaining support with regular influx of battle hardened Taliban fighters in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where it emerged last year as a new group. The tribal region earlier was dominated by Taliban.
Taliban chief of Bajaur tribal region Maulana Abu Bakar and his deputy Qari Zahid have joined the dreaded group after parting ways with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella entity of several militant groups, said Daish spokesman for the region Shahidullah Shahid.
Shahid, who was TTP spokesman before leaving the group last year to join IS, said all members of the Taliban council in Bajaur, commanders, scholars and judges of the Islamic court have recognised Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Islamic State, as their leader.
"The Bajaur leaders have declared allegiance to Hafiz Saeed Khan, leader of the Islamic State for Khorasan region," Shahid said in a statement. Khan, also a former Taliban commander, was appointed last year as the group's chief in Pakistan.
TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani in a statement confirmed that their Bajaur's chief and his deputy have resigned but he did not give any reason for it. Khorasan is a term popular with jihadi groups and it includes areas of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
It is believed that Abu Bakar was one of the influential Taliban leaders in Bajaur and was appointed the TTP Bajaur chief by Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2013. At a time when the Taliban is under serious attack by Pakistani army in the northwest the switching of allegiance by their leaders appears to be only compounding their challenges.
The Pakistan army last year launched a major offensive against militants in the northwest. The army says it has killed more than 1,000 militants since the operation was launched in June.