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Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

Indian Muslims have a minority status and are generally less affluent and educated than the Hindu majority. Secularism has been a key to why there’s been religious moderation. Indian Muslims don’t look at themselves as custodians of the global Muslim world in which something is so wrong that it compels them to make a contribution.

Despite having a Muslim population of nearly 180 million, the third largest in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan, India has seen very few of its people join the fight in Iraq and Syria. There have been cases of Indian Muslims becoming radicalized, but they are so few that exact numbers are hard to come by.

Although Al-Qaeda functioned independently of other terrorist organizations, it also functions through some of the terrorist organizations that operate under its umbrella or with its support, including jihad groups in Kashmiri region of India.

On 04 September 2014 al-Qaeda announced the establishment of its newest affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Ayman al-Zawahiri announced formation of a new wing called "Qaedat al-Jihad fi’shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya” or al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent [AQIS], which would launch jihadist activities in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The statement said AQIS would fight for Muslims who were “suffering” in India’s Assam, an eastern state bordering Bangladesh; Gujarat, the home state of India's prime minister; and Kashmir, a flashpoint for hostilities with Pakistan.

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.

The information was conveyed in a 55 minute video message that the Islamist extremist movement posted online. The footage, which was found in online jihadist forums by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, said Al-Qaeda would fight to revive the caliphate. “We want Islam to return to the Indian subcontinent, which was part of the Muslim world before it was invaded. It will serve Muslims in Burma, Kashmir, Gujarat, Bangladesh, Ahmedabad and Assam,” Zawahiri said in the video, according to the New Delhi Television Ltd. Zawahiri goes on to say that “establishing Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent is the result of two years of work to unify the Mujahideen. The rise of this new branch demonstrates that jihad under the leadership of Amir of Believers, Mullah Omar [head of the Afghan Taliban] is expanding.”

Al-Qaeda used social media and on-line web forums to make known the existence of AQIS, which al-Qaeda said it had worked for more than 2 years to create. The US Government assessed the creation of AQIS was not a reaction to al-Qaeda's split with ISIL, though the timing of the announcement may be used to bolster al-Qaeda's standing in the global jihad movement.

AQIS, which was led by Sheikh Asim Umer, stated objectives that include violence against the United States, establishing Islamic law in South Asia, ending occupation of Muslim lands, and defending Afghanistan under Mullah Omar's leadership. AQIS on 11 September 2014 publicly claimed responsibility for a thwarted September 2014 attack on a Pakistani Naval vessel at the Karachi Naval Dockyard. The group had planned to use the attack to target a US Navy ship. AQIS also claimed responsibility for the killing of a senior Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence officer in September 2014.

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s announcement that a newly launched wing would “liberate Muslims from injustice and oppression” in India has triggered a furious response from Indian Muslim community leaders. While some Indian Muslims called al-Qaida a “terrorist outfit” and criticized it for killing innocent people and threatening peace, others said that any action by al-Qaida would be detrimental to the interests of Indian Muslims and urged communities to ignore the group.

Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, will shift their operational focus on India after the scheduled complete drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, a top Pentagon commander has warned. "Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistan-based groups continue fighting in Afghanistan, but they will likely shift some of their operational focus to the Indian Subcontinent in the next one to three years as Coalition forces drawdown," Admiral Samuel J Locklear, Commander of US Pacific Command told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing 20 March 2015. "Al Qaeda's increased rhetoric focused on South Asia and the announcement of a new affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, suggest Al Qaeda will focus resources on uniting established terrorist groups to engage in jihad in South Asia," Locklear said.

A US counterterrorism operation on 14 January accidentally killed two male hostages - aid workers merican Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto - held by al-Qaida on the Afghan-Pakistan border, the White House said on 23 April 2015. US officials say Ahmed Farouq, an American whom the White House says was an al-Qaida leader, was killed in the same operation. US officials also concluded that Adam Gadahn, an American who had served as a spokesman for the terror network, was killed in a separate American operation on 19 January 2015. Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) acknowledged that Farouq had been killed in a U.S. strike. The AQIS spokesman said Farouq was a resident of Islamabad and had received “Sharia” education at the city’s International Islamic University.

The Sindh Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed on 16 September 2015 to have arrested an alleged financer of al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS) group in Karachi. Speaking at a press conference, SSP CTD Naveed Khawaja said the nabbed Sheeba Ahmad appeared to be a moderate Muslim but had relations with Arab extremists. “The arrested man has also confessed of funding Taliban,” the SSP said.

A suspected member of the al Qaeda was arrested in Uttar Pradesh's Sambhal on 16 December 2015 - the third such arrest in a week - widening a strike against the terror group's network in India, police said. The man, identified as Jafar Masood, will be produced in a Delhi court today. Police had earlier arrested two others - Abdul Rahman, 37, from Odisha's Cuttack and Mohammad Asif, 41, from Delhi. The two men were part of a module of the terror group's Indian sub-continent wing operating out of the country, police claimed.

Pakistan announced 12 February 2016 it has dismantled al-Qaida's main network in South Asia and foiled plans to break out of jail a man involved in the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, the spokesman for Pakistan’s military, said they had arrested 97 militants, including Farooq Bhatti — also known as Musanna — the deputy chief of al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), 12 of the group’s financiers and 15 explosives experts. The head of this al-Qaida chapter was in Afghanistan, according to Bajwa.

He said Pakistan has also arrested senior leadership of a banned militant outfit, Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ), along with 10 of the group’s IED (improvised explosive device) experts and six suicide bombers. This group was working with AQIS to plan and execute attacks across Pakistan creating a nexus that was receiving support from the Pakistani Taliban. Other arrests included 47 militants that belonged to a “common pool” of people used to carry out attacks.

On 30 June 2016 the United States designated al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, as a "foreign terrorist organization" and called its leader, Asim Umar, a "specially designated global terrorist." The US State Department took the action after the group claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks, including a 2014 incident in which the militants attempted to hijack a docked Pakistani naval frigate in Karachi.The raid left one Pakistani officer and three of the attackers dead, while seven sailors were wounded.

On 01 July 2016 an 11-hour standoff with a group of militants who killed 20 mostly foreign civilians at an upscale restaurant. Police tried to open a channel of communication with the militants. Several hours later, the commando operation to free the hostages began. The siege ended when security forces stormed the building, killing six attackers and capturing one. Most of the victims were hacked to death, and their killers sent photographs of the carnage to the Islamic State during the standoff.



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