- The official reactions of key militant factions based in Pakistan and Afghanistan to the “al-Aqsa Storm” attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023 reflected an interesting array of agendas and priorities.
- Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) issued an immediate response to Hamas’ attack, and tried to frame the event to promote al-Qaeda’s agenda of global jihad.
- The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also voiced its support for Hamas on October 7, identifying with the group’s struggle against a stronger power while also highlighting the localized nature of its own fight with Pakistan.
- The Afghan Taliban gave a somewhat delayed statement, and surprisingly appealed to the International Court of Justice to intervene, reflecting its increasingly internationalized outlook.
- Islamic State in Khorasan province (ISKP) waited until the end of November to put out a statement regarding the attack, but used the opportunity to denounce the Afghan Taliban, Hamas, and Muslim countries in general for failing to unite under a caliphate before confronting Israel.
In the wake of the “al-Aqsa Storm” attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023, the global community found itself grappling with an unforeseen event that sent shockwaves through not only political circles but also Islamist militant groups. The official reactions of key militant factions based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Islamic State in Khorasan province (ISKP), the Afghan Taliban, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), reflected their individual agendas and priorities.
The most detailed response came from AQIS, including a press release, detailed statements by three key leaders, and a special issue of its Urdu-language flagship magazine Nawai Ghazwat Hind (NGH). In contrast, ISKP remained silent on the attack until late in the year, only publishing a statement on November 27. The Afghan Taliban, amid their transition from an insurgency to a state actor, issued only brief, formal statements. Given their efforts toward statehood, this minimalistic approach is noteworthy (JustPaste, October 14, 2023; X/@SupremeCourt_af, November 5, 2023). The TTP, similar to AQIS, extensively covered the conflict with three statements, a podcast, and special issues of their Urdu- and Pashto-language magazines. Despite utilizing the opportunity to advance a local agenda, the TTP, like the Afghan Taliban, maintained a relatively cautious response. In particular, the TTP attempted to convey that, unlike in the past, it should not be considered a threat to the international community, with its only target being Pakistan itself.
A comprehensive analysis reveals the responses of these four groups to the Israel–Hamas War provides a deeper understanding of the intricate global dynamics that are shaping the jihadist landscape in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
AQIS’s Praise for Hamas
In a three-page press release issued on the same day of al-Aqsa Storm, AQIS described the attack as a significant achievement and ranked it alongside pivotal events in recent history, such as the 9/11 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 (X/@Ms_HKS, October 8, 2023). While mostly expressing joy, the statement also strongly criticized the allegation that the attack itself was a conspiracy against Palestinian Muslims. The publication likewise rejected any doubts about Hamas’s capabilities in planning and executing large-scale preparations under Israel’s intelligence radar.
As casualties and losses mounted in Gaza due to Israel’s escalating aerial bombardment, AQIS released another 19-page Urdu message on October 16, which was attributed to its key ideologue, Moinuddin Shami (X/@abdsayedd, October 17, 2023). Shami urged Muslims to target the citizens and interests of Israel and its allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, anywhere in the world. Framing the Israel–Hamas confrontation as a war for the freedom of the al-Aqsa Mosque, Shami emphasized that participation is a religious duty for every Muslim. He also credited Hamas with winning the decisive battle on October 7, underscoring that Muslims worldwide hold the responsibility for its successful conclusion.
Following the Israeli ground invasion into Gaza, AQIS leader Osama Mahmood issued a comprehensive 11-page Urdu message on October 31 (X/@KhyberScoop, October 31, 2023). Urging Muslims worldwide to take practical measures to respond to Israel’s attack, he attributed the killing of Gazans to Western countries’ support for Israel. Mahmood also implied that there should be a deliberate effort to incite attacks against the United States, al-Qaeda’s archenemy. However, Mahmood claimed that the losses stemming from Israel’s attacks have strengthened the support for jihadists among Muslims. This assertion was likely aimed at sustaining morale among supporters, despite Hamas’s military limitations against the formidable Israeli forces.
AQIS’s last message in this series, which was released on November 25, was especially critical, urging Muslims to combine violent actions with peaceful protests against Israel and pro-Israel countries (X/@azelin, November 26, 2023). This directive came from AQIS’s key religious ideologue, Muthanna Hassan, who emphasized that non-violent options like long marches and media campaigns can only yield results when accompanied by attacks. Hassan called for attacks on US and Western citizens, soldiers, and interests, including pro-Israel Jews, wherever possible. He advocated for economic boycotts of these countries and also urged boycotting products from companies that provide financial aid to Israel.
AQIS’s most extensive coverage of the Israel–Hamas conflict came in the form of a 177-page special edition of Nawai Ghazwat Hind (NGH) magazine, published on November 9 (X/abdsayedd, November 9, 2023). Over 100 pages were dedicated to the topic, reproducing statements from the leadership of al-Qaeda central and its various branches in Urdu. The edition also featured special op-eds authored by prominent AQIS members and regular contributors to NGH. The primary themes included a comprehensive analysis of the October 7 Hamas attack, emphasizing the duty and necessity of all Muslims to contribute to the conflict. Like previous public statements by the group, the magazine urged attacks on the citizens and interests of pro-Israel Western countries, including the United States. These messages were framed to promote al-Qaeda’s agenda of global jihad under the guise of the conflict.
The TTP Advances a Local Agenda
Similar to AQIS, the TTP voiced its support for Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel the day of the attack, portraying it as a significant triumph (X/@SamriBackup, October 7, 2023). The message was aimed primarily at rallying support for the TTP’s conflict against Pakistan’s security forces, drawing inspiration from the Hamas attack. It underscored the notion that steadfastness in armed struggle can overcome any enemy, irrespective of each side’s military strength.
Amid escalating Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, the TTP issued multiple statements condemning Israel’s actions. On October 18, for example, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani censured the international community, especially the United States, for failing to stop Israel, accusing them of complicity in the bloodshed (X/@IhsanTipu, October 18, 2023). Khorasani urged Muslim leaders, organizations, and individuals to intensify efforts to prevent Israeli operations in Gaza.
A special October 22 episode of the TTP’s Umar Media-connected Pasoon podcast featured leadership council member and influential ideologue Qari Muhammad Shoaib Bajauri discussing the conflict (X/@abdsayedd, October 22, 2023). Bajauri claimed that Muslim rulers were US puppets, and therefore are afraid of American retribution. He likewise argued that Israel was fully dependent on US support. The TTP also extensively covered the conflict in the November issue of its Urdu- and Pashto-language magazines, lauding the attack as a major victory for Hamas (X/@abdsayedd, November 2, 2023; X/@khorasandiary, November 16, 2023). The publications held the United States responsible for civilian casualties in Israel’s attacks. In the same vein, the magazines inspired supporters to oppose the Pakistani army, which was branded a US puppet, partially for its role in the post-9/11 US-led Global War on Terror. An article in the Pashto magazine further underscored the importance of participating in the ongoing war in Gaza for militants from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghan Taliban’s Internationalism
The Afghan Taliban’s most prominent statements about the conflict in Gaza came from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and senior religious leader Sheikh Abdul Hakim Haqqani on October 14 and November 5 (JustPaste, October 14, 2023; X/@SupremeCourt_af, November 5, 2023). Both Mujahid and Haqqani condemned Israel’s attacks on Gaza and expressed the Taliban’s solidarity with the Palestinian people. They called on Muslim rulers and Islamic organizations to take concrete steps to halt Israel’s assault on Gaza.
A notable aspect of the statement from Haqqani—who also serves as the chief justice in the Taliban government—was his appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to take action against Israel, branding its actions in Gaza as war crimes. In this sense, Haqqani’s statement was a rare expression of the Taliban’s acceptance of the international system. Mujahid, for his part, criticized the international community and human rights organizations for their perceived inaction in response to Israel’s attacks, categorizing the Israeli operations in Gaza as a “war crime” and a “grave violation of human rights.”
A key element of Mujahid’s statement was levelling his own critique of the international community’s criticism of the Taliban’s government. Using Israel’s actions in Gaza as a counterpoint, he questioned the validity of complaints against Afghanistan’s handling of women’s rights and other human rights issues. Mujahid opined,
Why [do] those countries and organizations [which choose to exploit] human rights violations, especially those concerning women and children, in sovereign states to justify interference, remain silent on human rights violations and oppression against women and children in Gaza, instead [choosing to support] the occupiers?
Mujahid’s critique of the international community implies that the Taliban is grappling with substantial pressure arising from global demands for human rights, particularly in the realm of women’s rights within the country.
ISKP’s Critiques and Proposal for a Caliphate
ISKP remained silent on the Israel–Hamas conflict until it issued a detailed response in the 27th edition of its Pashto flagship magazine Voice of Khorasan, released on November 27 (X/@Pak_AfgAffairs, November 28, 2023). In this response, ISKP aimed to reinforce its core claim by criticizing the Taliban’s handling of the Israeli operation in Gaza. The magazine asserted that, since assuming power, the Taliban has become a puppet of the United States and no longer represents a truly Islamic group.
The central op-ed within the magazine offered a comprehensive religious analysis of statements made by the Afghan Taliban’s Haqqani and Mujahid. The purpose was to substantiate ISKP claims about the Taliban’s ties to the United States and portray the Taliban as an apostate group. ISKP specifically emphasized Haqqani’s appeal to the ICJ as a decisive factor that undermines the religious legitimacy of the Taliban.
ISKP also criticized Hamas and nearby Muslim countries, including Iran and Qatar, who are perceived as supporters of Hamas. ISKP’s position is that the sole solution to the liberation of Muslim regions, including the Levant, is the dismantlement of the current state systems and the establishment of a caliphate. ISKP’s underlying message is that the existing government of Muslim countries should be overthrown first, before confronting Israel directly.
ISKP urged Muslims to cease their support for Hamas and asserted that it is not an Islamic organization but a nationalist party motivated by national interests rather than properly religious objectives. Furthermore, the group criticized Hamas by arguing that if it were genuinely Islamic, it would have implemented strict sharia law in the areas under its control and would not have fought with Islamic State (IS) in the border areas between Gaza and Egypt.
The diverse reactions of jihadist factions in Afghanistan and South Asia to the Israel–Hamas conflict in Gaza underscores the complex dynamics within the region’s militant landscape. AQIS seized the opportunity to advance its global jihadist agenda under the guise of supporting the Palestinian cause, emphasizing the duty of Muslims worldwide to contribute to the conflict. In contrast, the TTP echoed other Islamist groups’ support for Hamas, but maintained a cautious stance, emphasizing its local struggle against Pakistani security forces.
The Afghan Taliban, in its transition from insurgency to a state actor, issued concise statements expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. Notably, the appeal to the ICJ by Haqqani was an attempt to utilize international mechanisms to address the conflict, reflecting the Taliban’s evolving diplomatic approach. ISKP initially remained silent but later issued a critical response aimed at undermining the Taliban’s legitimacy. The group’s call for the establishment of a caliphate before confronting Israel revealed its distinct ideological stance of advocating for the dismantling of existing state systems in Muslim nations as a prerequisite for effective resistance at a larger scale. Taken together, these responses reflect nuanced strategies on behalf of the four militant groups analyzed, crafted with respect to their organization’s narrative adaptability and respective objectives.