NEW DELHI — Al-Qaida has released a video announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent, saying it is meant to revive jihadist activity in a region that was once “part of the land of Muslims, until the infidel enemy occupied it and fragmented it and split it.”
In the 55-minute video, which was posted on jihadist forums, al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, addresses listeners in parts of the region with large Muslim populations, assuring Muslims in Burma and Bangladesh; in the Indian cities and states of Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad and Kashmir that your brothers“ in the militant organization ”did not forget you and that they are doing what they can to rescue you.“
In recent months, al-Qaida’s emerging competitor, the Islamic State group, has begun to recruit Indian Muslims, and some analysts viewed the videotaped announcement as a response.
Al-Zawahri said it had taken more than two years “to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity,” but did not mention smaller groups that might be affiliated. The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online, said the video was posted Wednesday.
Indian news outlets reported Thursday that the country’s Intelligence Bureau had verified the video’s authenticity and had alerted police across the nation to a heightened threat.
Sambit Patra, a spokesman for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, called the announcement “a matter of serious concern.”
“The government will take a note of it, and surely see to it that whatever action we have to take against this will be done,” he said, according to ANI, a wire service.
Al-Qaida, which has been weakened by military and economic pressure in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has not traditionally recruited heavily in India or staged major attacks on Hindus. Instead, its ideological focus has been on driving out a “far enemy” — the United States and its allies — from the Middle East.
However, the Islamic State group, a Sunni network that split rancorously from al-Qaida last year, has been recruiting Indian Muslims.
In his videotaped address, al-Zawahri does not make specific reference to the Islamic State group, but he does call for unity among jihadists.
Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, a New York security consulting firm that tracks militant websites, called the message “a serious counter-narrative” to the Islamic State expansion.
“Al-Zawahiri is establishing an antithesis to ISIS and its ideology, a message to mujahedeen unify together, not kill Muslims and kill each other, and, keep the focus of the attacks on Western powers,” Alkhouri said in a written reply to questions, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State group. “In other words, maintain the original al-Qaida goals.”