Noor Zahid, Jaleel Akhtar
WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD — The sighting of an Islamic State flag spread fears among residents in Pakistan’s capital, prompting authorities to order an investigation of the incident.
“The Caliphate is coming,” read an inserted slogan on an IS flag which was put up over a billboard Sunday on a major expressway in Islamabad.
Pakistan Interior Ministry authorities told VOA a committee has been formed to investigate the incident, denying reports IS may have established a foothold in the country.
“The group does not have an organized presence, resources or structure to be able operate in the area,” Talal Choudhry, State Minister for Interior Affairs told VOA’s Urdu Service.
Pakistani authorities acknowledged at least one IS flag was displayed on a billboard, but some sources told VOA other IS flags were found in other parts of the capital city.
While militant groups have previously targeted Islamabad, the city is regarded as one of the safest places in the country. Under a “Safe City Project” that aims at making the capital crime-free, more than 1,900 surveillance cameras (CCTV) have been installed across the city.
The IS terror group has taken roots in the mountain regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan since early 2015. It brands itself as the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K), a title that distinguishes the militant group in the region from its main branch in Iraq and Syria.
Reports of IS making inroads
The IS threat in Pakistan follows recent media reports and activities by local IS affiliates in various regions that indicate the group has been making inroads in the country.
Pakistani counter-terror authorities in April arrested a female university student who was allegedly planning to target Christian gatherings on Easter eve in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, on IS behalf.
In May, five suspected IS militants who had plans to carry out terror attacks were arrested from the southern port city of Karachi. Last year, Karachi police authorities discovered a network of women raising funds for IS.
In northwestern Peshawar, capital of the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, two alleged IS leaders were killed by security forces in June.
The director general of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, Aftab Sultan, last year warned lawmakers that IS was an emerging problem in the country and hundreds of fighters linked to local banned religious groups had left for Syria to join IS ranks there.
According to Sultan, local sectarian militant organization such as the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which are blamed for deadly attacks against the country’s minority Shi’ite Muslims, “have a soft corner for Daesh,” the Arabic term for IS.
In addition to IS’s local affiliates and sympathizers, Pakistani fighters may return home from the battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria and cause instability in the country, analysts warn.
This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.