DERA ISMAIL KHAN  - A splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban has pledged support to Islamic State (IS), a spokesman said on Monday, in another indication of the appeal of the Iraq- and Syria-based jihadist group in a region traditionally dominated by al Qaeda and local insurgencies.

Jundullah announced its backing after meeting a three-man delegation representing IS led by al Zubair al Kuwaiti, the group’s spokesman Fahad Marwat told Reuters.

Jundullah is one of several Pakistani groups exploring relations with IS, whose fighters have captured swathes of Iraq and Syria in a drive to set up a self-declared caliphate. They share an aim to kill or drive out religious minorities and establish a hardline Sunni theocracy.

Analysts say that so far IS has mainly attracted sectarian groups rather than anti-state militants like the Taliban. Pakistan has a ready supply of hardened fighters and a population often receptive to sectarian hatred.

Jundullah carried out a church bombing that killed around 80 Christians.

“They (Islamic State) are our brothers, whatever plan they have we will support them,” said Jundullah spokesman Marwat.

His comments follow the release of a video last month by five Pakistani Taliban commanders pledging support to IS. Islamic State also has contacts with the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), militants and security officials said.

“The top leadership of LeJ visited Saudi Arabia and met Islamic State leaders at an undisclosed location at Saudi-Syria border,” one militant told Reuters. He said the meeting took place more than a year ago.

Many Pakistani militants said they felt torn by loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has strong historical ties to al Qaeda. IS itself broke away from al Qaeda.

“All ….groups in Pakistan will welcome and support IS in Pakistan, though most of them will not announce it openly due to their allegiance to Mullah Omar,” one said.

Last week, a leaked government memo warned the group had recruited 10,000-12,000 fighters inside Pakistan, but a government minister insisted it had no presence there. Militants and security officials also dismissed the memo as not credible.

Several militants said that hundreds of Pakistanis had gone to fight in Syria, but had done so through the Taliban or on their own. Five who returned took part in an August suicide attack on two Pakistani air bases, a policeman said. Tribal rivalries split the Taliban, Pakistan’s biggest militant group, this summer, leading to two main factions and several splinter groups.

Some analysts say Pakistanis declaring allegiance to IS is a ploy to grab headlines rather than a sign of operational links.

“They are the new poster boys of Islamic jihad and they have lots of money,” said Saifullah Mahsud of Islamabad-based think tank the FATA Research Centre. “There is no doubt they (IS) are trying but these are more probing missions than anything else.”

Target killings

Our Staff Reporter adds from Peshawar: The Shia community members on Monday demanded the government constitute a Judicial Commission to probe the growing incidents of target killing and uncover the culprits and bring them to justice.

Addressing a joint press conference at the Press Club here, Shia leader Allama Abid Shakari said the law enforcement agencies have totally failed to nab the culprits involved in killing of dozens of innocent people belonging to Shia community. He said that despite high security in Peshawar, the killers managed targeting innocent civilians and then easily escaped. “Our silence should not be considered as weakness. We can defend ourselves but do not want to disturb the peaceful environment of society,” he added.

He, however, said the government and law enforcement agencies’ utmost duty is to ensure security of life and property of masses. “We will never succumb to the threats of target killers and banned organisations,” he added. He claimed the provincial government is well aware of the group involved in target killings of members of Shia community.

Accompanied by Allama Irshad Hussain Khalili, Akhunzada Muzzafar and others, Allama Shakari blamed the agents of banned organisations for creating sectarian disharmony, instability and rift between Shia and Sunni sects to complete their nefarious designs.

He asked the government and law enforcement agencies to conduct a clean-up operation against the defunct organisations in Peshawar and elsewhere in the province and ensure safety and security of the people and their properties.

The police, he said, should take notice of sending intimidation letters, messages and threat calls to members of Shia community and unearth the group behind such activities to end the growing uncertainty among them.