Indian states on high alert after al Qaeda announces local wing formation
NEW DELHI: India puts several provinces on heightened
alert on Thursday after al Qaeda announced the formation of a wing of the
militant group in India and its neighbourhood, a senior government official
In a video posted online, al Qaeda chief Ayman
al-Zawahri promised to spread Islamic rule and “raise the flag of jihad” across
the "Indian subcontinent".
New Delhi regards the message as authentic and has
warned local governments, said an official who attended a security briefing in
which it was discussed with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is responsible for
policing and internal security. “This matter has been taken very seriously,”
the official told Reuters. “An alert has been sounded.”
Indian security forces are usually on a state of alert
for attacks by home-grown Islamist militants and by anti-India groups based in
Pakistan. It was not immediately clear what additional steps were being taken.
Until now there has been no evidence that al Qaeda,
the group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 airliner attacks on New York’s
World Trade Centre, has a presence in India.
The timing and content of the video suggests rivalry
between al Qaeda and its more vigorous rival in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State,
which anecdotal evidence suggests is gathering support in South Asia.
According to media reports, Islamic State pamphlets
have been distributed in Pakistan in recent days. “Al Qaeda has seen its
authority eroded by the fact that it is no longer able to independently carry
out large-scale attacks anywhere in the world, and by the emergence of rival
factions,” Omar Hamid, head of Asia analysis at security research firm IHS
Country Risk, wrote in a report.
Al Qaeda's establishment of a local branch seeks to
take advantage of the planned withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan,
which may lead to an influx of battle-hardened militants into India, Hamid
The SITE monitoring service quoted AQIS spokesman
Usama Mahmoud as saying the group's goals include “waging jihad against America
and the 'system of global disbelief', and uprooting it, in order to establish
Sharia-based governance,” according to an audio speech.
It also sought to "revive the Caliphate on the
prophetic methodology", SITE said, in a possible challenge to the Caliphate
announced by the Islamic State.
Zawahri’s announcement made two references to Gujarat,
the home state of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist. Modi
has long been a hate figure for Islamist groups because of religious riots in
2002 when he was chief minister of the state. More than 1,000 people, mainly
Muslims, died in the spasm of violence.