In the 10 months since its stunning capture of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, the Islamic State has expanded its reach beyond its geographic base, establishing a foothold in countries such as Libya. A vicious suicide attack in Afghanistan now raises fears that the war-torn country may be next. On Saturday, an unidentified man detonated explosives inside a crowded bank in Jalalabad, a city located near the country's border with Pakistan, killing 33 and injuring over 100. The number of the dead, who were all civilians, is expected to rise.
Appearing on national television after the attack, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani claimed that a local affiliate of the Islamic State, also referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh, was responsible.
"Taliban did not claim responsibility, but Daesh claimed responsibility," he said.
The involvement of ISIS has not been independently confirmed. But if Ghani is correct, Saturday's attack is an ominous development in a country struggling to combat a brutal insurgency from the Taliban, an indigenous Afghan group recently strengthened by an influx of foreign fighters.
On Saturday, a Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack. But the group remains a lethal presence in Afghanistan. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Taliban violence claimed the lives of over 8,600 civilians in 2013 alone, and the group threatens government control of an estimated 40 percent of the country's 373 districts. A military crackdown on Islamic extremism in Pakistan has caused militants to cross the border into Afghanistan, where they have found refuge with the Taliban. With the onset of spring—the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan—extremist violence will only intensify.