‘Do Not Travel’: UK Warns of ‘Very, Very Credible’ Intelligence on ‘Imminent’ Attack at Kabul Airport

The United Kingdom and Western allies have warned they have credible intelligence of an “imminent” terror attack against Kabul airport, where thousands of people are crowded outside the gates in hope of catching a flight out.

Speaking on Thursday morning, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told British television audiences that the “credibility” of the intelligence about what he described as an “imminent” and deadly terror suicide terror attack against the crowds at the Afghan airport was so strong that they had to take the decision to order them to disperse.

The order for people to stop crowding outside the airport on Wednesday night came from the United States embassy, the United Kingdom embassy, and others. That it was made as the last handful of flights evacuating Western citizens and at-risk Afghans from the country prepared to depart was a difficult one, Heappey claimed, but the huge numbers of people fleeing the Taliban was too tempting a target for a terror group he called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).

Heappey said: “There is a highly credible report of very imminent, very lethal attack on the crowds at Kabul airport, and in all good conscience we couldn’t know that and not communicate it, advising people to stay away.”

Speaking to Independent Television News Thursday morning, the minister expressed that: “What IS-KP would love more than anything else is for there to be a large, desperate crowd that they would find easy to operate within. I think what you’d see, if they were successful in mounting their attack, the most gut-wrenching, miserable, abhorrent scenes you could ever possibly imagine, and that’s why we’re being very honest with people this morning about the threat which exists.”

The British Foreign Office said in their advice: “Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai international airport. If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice”.

Heappey said that ideally the British would have sent forces out into Kabul to hunt down the threat and eliminate it away from the airport, but the available Western forces at the airport is so small that wouldn’t be possible.

The threat, and ordered evacuation of the areas outside the airport, come in the final 24-hours of Royal Air Force (RAF) evacuation planes leaving Kabul. 11 flights are programmed in today, Heappey said. The British forces and consular staff who have been enabling the evacuation will then pull out ahead of the 31st deadline that between the United States and the Taliban appears immovable.

London’s The Times reports the order for the crowds to disperse away from the airport may mean that some will miss being evacuated at all.

Despite the warnings from the Western allies about the threat, thousands still remain at the airport gates. Heappey said of this in a conversation with Sky News: “As you can see on the TV screen, there are thousands of people who have ignored that advice, and I suppose their logic is they are already fearful for their lives and they’ve chosen to stay. That is not what we’d advise them to do, I think it’s right we’ve told them the intelligence is so credible now and so imminent. We’re doing our best to keep those who haven’t left safe.”

The security picture around Kabul underlines the near-surreal situation where retreating Western forces, leaving Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation, and the conquering Taliban forces filling the vacuum left by America and its partners, both find themselves potentially under attack from the Islamic State group, which opposes both.

News wires service Reuters cites the remarks of one unnamed Taliban official who claimed of the situation where Taliban soldiers were at Kabul airport: “Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Islamic State group.”

The Associated Press reports that ISIS-K is a splinter group from the Afghan Taliban, made up of fighters who believe in an even more extreme version of Islam.

A 2020 report by The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars notes ISIS-K was established in 2015 and is “the most extreme jihadi movement in embattled Afghanistan”, with past attacks against both the Taliban and the U.S.

It once had a stronghold in Nangarhar province but lost control of the area in 2019, and has been working to re-establish itself since.

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