Al Qaeda Opens An India Branch, Because It's Tired Of ISIS Stealing The Spotlight
ISIS has dominated the world's attention in recent weeks, but an older jihadist group may now be reclaiming the spotlight. On Wednesday, Al Qaeda announced its new India branch in a video message posted by leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri's message details the group's plans to renew jihadist activity on the Indian subcontinent, focusing on regions with large Muslim populations. Given recent events, experts believe that the announcement might be in response, and retaliation, to ISIS' growing network.
The 55-minute video features Al-Zawahiri, the nominal leader of al Qaeda, Asim Umar, the head of al Qaeda's Sharia Committee For Pakistan, and Usama Mahmoud, an al Qaeda spokesman. In the video, which has been posted on several jihadist forums, Al-Zawahiri announces a new branch called "Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent," which he says has been two years in the making. The new group will report to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, to whom Al-Zawahiri leader pledged renewed allegiance in July, and led by Umar.
The video was first discovered by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. After analysis, India's Intelligence Bureau confirmed its authenticity. Intelligence officials have informed law enforcement across the country and issued security alerts in several states.
As translated by the SITE Intelligence Group and detailed by The Long War Journal, Al-Zawahiri opens the video by saying that the new branch will:
... raise the flag of jihad, return the Islamic rule, and empowering the Shariah of Allah across the Indian subcontinent.
While the video is certainly cause for alarm, many analysts believe that it's a desperate attempt to gain back some of the limelight that al Qaeda once had as the world's most prominent and formidable jihadist group. That title has recently been challenged by the rising Islamic State, who have been seizing territories, recruiting thousands, and instilling fear in the world with its beheading videos. Since 9/11 and the subsequent "War on Terror," al Qaeda has remained relatively hidden and after Osama Bin Laden's death, the once highly organized group has largely decentralized and scattered.
While Al-Zawahiri speaks of al Qaeda's overall goal — to establish a global caliphate (an Islamic State led by a supreme religious leader) and impose sharia (Islamic law) — the new branch will have specific aims.
What Al Qaeda's Indian Branch Aims to Achieve
According to the video, the new entity was established to "promulgate the call of the reviving imam Sheikh Usama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him" and to "wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate."
Who Will Be Affected?
Al-Zawahiri mentions several "vulnerable" states, including Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujurat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir," where the new group will "rescue [the people] from injustice, oppression, persecution, and suffering."
Muslims make up 13 percent of India's population, while the predominant Hindu religion makes up about 80 percent. According to an audio recording released with the video, Hindus might be a potential target for the new faction. In the recording, Umar refers to Jews and Hindus as "apostates of India" and says that they "will watch your destruction by your own eyes." He vows that fighters for the new branch will "storm your barricades with cars packed with gunpowder."
How Seriously Should We Take the Video?
According to experts, the video may merely be Al Qaeda's call for attention in the wake of ISIS' dominance. CNN's national security analyst, Peter Bergen, calls the video "hyperventilation and posturing." "They are losing a lot of constituents to the Islamic State," Bergen points out. "They're trying to show their global reach as an organization."
Bergen even compares to the two militant groups' video styles: "Al-Zawahiri's video is boring, talking into the camera" while "ISIS videos are well-edited and dynamic."
So, how successful will al Qaeda be in gaining global reach? Well, if its stale approach is any indication, then the Islamic State will continue to be our No. 1 concern.
Images: The Long War Journal, Getty Images (3)