The Centre sounded a countrywide alert today afternoon after a video released by terror outfit al-Qaeda announced its intent to make the subcontinent, particularly India, the focus of its terror activities.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the 55-minute long video posted online on Wednesday evening, announced the launching of a new outfit ‘Qaedat al-Jihad’ to wage jihad or holy war in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar with the aim to establish a new caliphate in the region.
Zawahiri named such communally sensitive states as Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Gujarat as the focus of future al-Qaeda’s activities in India.
Highly placed government sources said the video could be al-Qaeda’s effort to start a recruitment drive in India. The Centre asked state governments and other security and intelligence agencies to take all precautionary steps. Intelligence agencies have been specifically asked to keep a tab on modules of Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
IM carried out a series of terror strikes across India between 2005 and 2008. IM has been largely in disarray since police and intelligence agencies neutralised many of its modules in 2008.
According to sources, al-Qaeda could try revive IM through its links in Pakistan. Intelligence agencies have been asked to keep a watch on traditional recruitment grounds like Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and a couple of districts in Bihar.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval and Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Syed Asif Ibrahim held series of meetings with senior officials today. Preliminary assessment by the IB suggested the video to be genuine. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also briefed on the situation.
India is wary of increased al-Qaeda activities in Kashmir in the next few months as the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. Intelligence agencies are of the view that al-Qaeda with this effort was trying to regain some of the ground it has lost in recent months to the Islamic State, earlier known as ISIS, which is active in Iraq and Syria.
The assessment within intelligence agencies is that al-Qaeda has little known footprint in India. However, there have been stray reports of Muslim youths from India joining the ranks of the Islamic State. Media reports from Pakistan have claimed Islamic State pamphlets have been distributed there in recent days.
The video suggests that al-Qaeda, while active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was now trying to expand its reach across the Indian subcontinent. In the video, Zawahiri pledges renewed allegiance to Taliban chief Mullah Omar. He said Qaedat al-Jihad, the new outfit, would take the fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Zawahiri said the group will defend the “vulnerable in the Indian subcontinent, in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir…” and “your brothers in Qaedat al-Jihad did not forget you and that they are doing what they can to rescue you from injustice, oppression, persecution, and suffering.”
Myanmar has seen several incidents of large scale communal rioting between the majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in recent years, as has Assam between Bodos and Muslims.
J&K remains a troubles spot. In the video, Zawahiri made two references to Gujarat. The state witnessed communal riots in February 2002 when Modi was the chief minister. Over a 1,000 people were killed in the riots, majority being Muslims.
Home Ministry officials said an assessment is being made about the presence of al-Qaeda in the country. The IB is expected to send the report in this regard within a day or two, officials said. In the video, Zawahiri said the new outfit would be led by two militants from Pakistan.
Terrorists recruited from Pakistan had carried out one of the last big terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008. As many as 166 people and nine terrorists were killed in the attack. Abdul Kasab, the tenth terrorist who was caught, was hanged after a court trial in 2012.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the government was well prepared to counter any terror activity. Uttar Pradesh IG (law and order) Amrendra Singh Sengar told reporters in Lucknow said alert has been sounded in all districts of the state.