LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces have arrested a man they believe is the commander of the Islamic State group in the country as well as two accomplices involved in recruiting and sending fighters to Syria, intelligence sources said on Wednesday.
Authorities in South Asia are concerned about the rise of the jihadist group in a region already beset by home-grown insurgencies fighting to topple local governments and set up strict Islamic rule.
Three intelligence sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the man, Yousaf al-Salafi, was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore and confessed during interrogation that he represented IS in Pakistan.
“Al-Salafi is a Pakistani Syrian who reached Pakistan through Turkey five months ago,” said one source. “He crossed into Turkey from Syria and was caught there. Somehow he managed to escape and reached Pakistan to establish ISIS (IS).”
The account could not be independently verified.
The source said one of his accomplices, Hafiz Tayyab, was a prayer leader in Lahore and was involved in recruiting Pakistanis and sending them to fight alongside Islamic State in Syria, charging IS about $600 per person.
Rifts among the Taliban and disputes about the future of the insurgency have contributed to the rise of Islamic State’s popularity but security sources believe there are no operational links yet between IS and South Asia.
Disgruntled former Taliban commanders have formed the so-called Khorasan chapter - an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries - in recent months but have not been involved in any fighting.
Their leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan Orakzai, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, appeared in a video address this month urging people in the region to join the group.
Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari, Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Jeremy Laurence