NEW DELHI (INP): Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, has announced the formation of an Indian branch of the extremist organisation, calling on Muslims across the subcontinent to join the “caravan of jihad”.
In a 56-minute video posted online on Wednesday, Zawahiri also renewed a longstanding vow of loyalty to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, and sniped at the Islamic State (Isis), the Syria- and Iraq-based group which has challenged al-Qaida’s increasingly shaky leadership of transnational Islamic militancy in recent months. Zawahiri, who has led al-Qaida since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, said the new “Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent” would be “the standard bearer” of Bin Laden’s “global message which aimed to unite the [world’s Muslims] in jihad against enemy, liberate occupied lands and establish the caliphate”. It would fight on behalf of Muslims suffering “injustice and oppression … in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir”, Zawahiri said.
One al-Qaida strategy to counter its decline appears to be an effort to build support among the nearly half a billion Muslims who live in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
The video calls for the establishment of an “Islamic state in the Indian Subcontinent” and emphasises al-Qaida’s traditional role of unifying disparate militant groups. The reference to the caliphate, in an edited speech by Bin Laden, also appears in part directed at the group’s new rivals.
The renewed pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, is a further sign that “al-Qaida Central” as it is known to specialists, remains focused on south and west Asia.
Since the mid-1990s, Zawahiri, who is believed to be based somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border, has repeatedly sworn bayat, or oaths of loyalty, to Mullah Omar in return for the safe haven the Taliban leader granted their followers and to further bind the Afghan Islamic militia into a global “jihadist” agenda.
In Wednesday’s statement Zawahiri obliquely criticised his challenger’s efforts to administer areas Isis has seized in Iraq and Syria.
Al-Qaida’s leaders have explicitly shunned state-building as a strategy, preferring a campaign of spectacular violence including complex attacks on targets in the west which are designed to radicalise and mobilise Muslims around the world. The veteran Egypt-born militant leader has muted his criticism of Isis, which is in open conflict with the official al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, perhaps aware of enthusiasm for the group in militant circles and among younger volunteers. “Discord is a curse and torment, and disgrace for the believers and glory for the disbelievers,” he said. Muslims account for 15% of Indians but, numbering an estimated 175 million, theirs is the third-largest Muslim population in the world. On the other hand, Indian home minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday called a meeting with intelligence agencies over an al-Qaida video threatening to take the terror outfit’s campaign to India. The home ministry has asked IB to verify the authenticity of the al-Qaida video and has put several states on
increased alert. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Bureau has alerted police stations across the country over the new terror threat, according to reports.
“In the wake of this al-Qaida video, we will be on a higher alert. We will work closely with the central government to tackle any threat posed to the state,” SK Nanda, the senior most bureaucrat in the home department of Gujarat, told Reuters.
Reacting to the video, Congress leader Manish Tewari said, “Govt must take cognizance of this, and also put pressure on Pakistan to expedite 26/11 case.”
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