Kabul attack: Who are ISIS-K and were they behind the attack at the Afghanistan airport?

A suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside of a gate at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, as American troops worked to get people through the facility and on planes to leave the country.

>> Kabul attack: ‘Unknown’ number of casualties, Pentagon says (live updates)

The explosion happened only hours after U.S. officials had warned Americans and Afghans looking to leave the country not to travel to the airport because of a security threat.

“Because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” the statement from the embassy read.

“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately.”

The explosion occurred outside the Abbey Gate.

The embassy, CNN reported, had received a “very specific threat stream” from a group known as ISIS-K. According to the story, a U.S. official said intelligence suggested the militants were planning to take advantage of the chaos around the airport with a possible suicide bomb attack.

Who are ISIS-K and why would they attack the airport?

Here is what we know now.

Who are ISIS-K?

ISIS-K is the branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (ISIL), located in the Khorasan region. Historically, the region includes parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Islamic State is a Sunni jihadist group that claims religious authority over every Muslim on earth.

ISIS-K was founded by Islamic State members from Pakistan and members of the Taliban who broke from Afghanistan’s Taliban army.

ISIS-K announced its formation in an online video on Jan. 10, 2015. A little more than two weeks later, on Jan. 26, 2015, the group announced its expansion into the Khorasan region.

The group operates mainly in the northern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, close to Kabul, and, according to a UN Security Council report, it is believed there are between 1,000 and 2,200 active ISIS-K fighters.

That number is down from a peak of between 5,000 and 6,000 in 2016, the report said.

Will ISIS-K join forces with the Taliban as they take control of the country?

It is not likely. The groups have different ideologies and are sworn enemies.

According to some officials, it is more likely ISIS-K had planned the attack to embarrass the Taliban which had promised to allow Americans safe passage to leave the country up until the Aug. 31 deadline.

Should the U.S. be worried about ISIS-K?

ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for many attacks in the past six years, including an attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul in May 2020 that killed 24 including newborn babies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week described the threat of an ISIS-K attack as “a very real possibility” in the runup to the American withdrawal on Aug. 31.

The attack on Thursday injured both Afghans and at least three U.S. Marines, according to early reports. The Pentagon said reports of casualties are expected to go up.

An Afghan man, identified as Carl, who witnessed the attack told Fox News that many people were injured in the attack and that a 5-year-old “died in my arms.” The man said he worked for the U.S. Marines as an interpreter.

A second bomb was detonated near a hotel that is very near the airport in Kabul, the Pentagon reported.