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India on Alert After Al-Qaida Announces Local Branch

  • Anjana Pasricha

In this image taken from video, Ayman al-Zawahri, head of al-Qaida, delivers a statement in a video which was seen online by the SITE monitoring group, released Sept. 4, 2014.

In this image taken from video, Ayman al-Zawahri, head of al-Qaida, delivers a statement in a video which was seen online by the SITE monitoring group, released Sept. 4, 2014.

Al-Qaida has launched a group in the Indian subcontinent, targeting India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. But security analysts see India as the main target.

Indian intelligence agencies issued alerts across the country hours after al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, threatened to raise the flag of “jihad” and spread Islamic rule on the Indian subcontinent.

In a 55-minute video posted online, Zawahiri said al-Qaida’s new unit in the subcontinent would rescue Muslims from injustice and oppression in the Indian states of Gujarat, Assam and Kashmir, and in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Sambit Patra, a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, called al-Qaida’s plans to push its terror outfit in the subcontinent a serious concern.

Patra says India has a very strong government, and it will take strict action on the issue.

India’s Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, met with top security officials to discuss the threat.

Security analysts see al-Qaida's apparent new push as an effort to enhance its diminishing clout, as it loses ground to jihadist group Islamic State, which has gained influence in Syria and Iraq.

The announcement could pose a challenge to India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has already faced criticism for remaining silent about several incidents deemed anti-Muslim while he was chief minister of Gujarat state.

Meanwhile, security and police officials have been told to be vigilant about any efforts at large-scale recruitment of young Muslims by the terror group.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

All three Indian states mentioned in the video have sizeable Muslim populations. Kashmir is India’s only Muslim majority state and has witnessed a violent separatist insurgency. In Assam, bordering Bangladesh, Muslims have been the victims of violence by tribal communities in recent years. Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is believed to have been on the radar of Islamist militant groups since 2002 when it was wracked with religious riots.

In Myanmar, also known as Burma, a senior official from the president’s office warned that terrorists might try to instigate a recurrence of religious violence in the country. He told VOA that the government is committed to cooperating with the international community on fighting global terrorism, and has been on alert and taken security measures.

But security experts say that more than Myanmar and Bangladesh, al-Qaida’s call for “jihad” is directed at India - a Hindu majority nation which is home to about 175 million Muslims - the world’s third largest Muslim population.

India has long coped with sectarian tensions and numerous attacks by Islamist militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

However Ajai Sahni, at the Institute of Conflict Studies in New Delhi, says he does not regard al-Qaida's plans to establish a unit in South Asia as an extraordinary threat. He points out that Islamist militants have been active in India for years.

“Any realignments of the forces can create potential difficulties. But these shifts are only marginal. We have been fighting these same people for decades now. So I don’t see this as something that is transformatory," Sahni said.

Security analysts see al-Qaida’s plans to push into South Asia as an effort to enhance its diminishing clout as it loses ground to another jihadist group, Islamic State, which has gained influence in Syria and Iraq.

VOA Burmese Service correspondent Khin Soe Win contributed to this report from Yangon.

*In an earlier version of this story we incorrectly reported that PM Narendra Modi was the governor of Gujarat state.

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