AFP, Sep. 3, 2014,
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri launched a new branch of the global Islamist extremist movement on Wednesday to reinvigorate and expand its struggle in the Indian sub-continent. In a video spotted in online jihadist forums by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, Zawahiri said the new force would "crush the artificial borders" dividing Muslim populations in the region.
Al-Qaeda is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where its surviving leadership are thought to be hiding out, but Zawahiri said "Qaedat al-Jihad" would take the fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. "This entity was not established today but is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian sub-continent into a single entity," he said.
Since the death of its figurehead, it has been somewhat eclipsed, first by its own offshoots in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and now by the so-called "Islamic State" fighting in Iraq and Syria. While still regarded as a threat to the West, the group has never managed to repeat the spectacular success of the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington.
But, in launching "Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian sub-continent," Zawahiri may be attempting to recapture some of the limelight for his group and to exploit existing unrest in Kashmir and Myanmar. "It is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam, Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy upon him," Zawahiri said.
Zawahiri called on the "umma," or Muslim nation, to unite around "tawhid," or monotheism, "to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate." He said the group would recognize the overarching leadership of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and be led day-to-day by senior Pakistani militant Asim Umar.
The video is produced by Al-Qaeda's usual media arm, the As-Sahab Media Foundation -- "The Cloud" -- and SITE reported that it had been widely distributed on jihadist online forums. In it, Zawahiri singles out Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir -- Indian regions with large Muslim populations -- along with Bangladesh and Myanmar, as territories targeted by the new organization.
Indian Muslims have also been the victims of violence led by Hindu extremists. Hundreds died during the 2002 Gujarat riots, at a time when India's now Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of the state.
Muslims are a minority in Myanmar, and the stateless Rohingya have complained of persecution by the Buddhist majority. Zawahiri called on Muslims living in the sub-continent -- "which was once part of the lands of Muslims, until the infidel enemy occupied it and fragmented it" -- to support their "mujahedeen brothers." And he urged them to reject the "deceptive mirage" of secular democracy in favor of religious government and sharia law.