HindustanTimes Sun,28 Dec 2014

States on alert after al Qaeda announces India wing

HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times  Guwahati/ Srinagar/ Lucknow, September 04, 2014
First Published: 15:44 IST(4/9/2014) | Last Updated: 11:59 IST(5/9/2014)

The communally-sensitive states of Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Assam and Uttar Pradesh were put on increased alert on Thursday, a day after after al Qaeda announced the formation of a wing in India and its neighbourhood.

In a 55-minute video posted online, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahri said the new branch of his militant group will spread Islamic rule and "raise the flag of jihad" across the subcontinent, including Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir.

Watch: al Qaeda chief Zawahiri announces expansion to India

Gujarat stepped up its vigil after the video which could fan communal hostilities in the state where more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in a spasm of violence in 2002.

"In the wake of this al Qaeda video, we will be on a higher alert. We will work closely with the central government to tackle any threat posed to the state," S.K. Nanda, the chief secretary of Gujarat. A high security alert in the state involves activating informer networks in sensitive areas. Authorities in Uttar Pradesh also said they were on alert for attacks by local Islamist militants and were worried the video would inflame tensions, especially in the western parts where tensions have been high since last year’s deadly riots in Muzzafarnagar.

“We are studying the video and security agencies have been directed to remain vigilant as the fanatic groups might try to flare up tension in communally-sensitive areas of UP,” said the state’s additional director general for law and order, Mukul Goela.

The state’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) is already probing a video released by Indian Mujahideen operatives urging Muslim youth to join Ansar al-Tawhid, a militant group based in Afghanistan. Ansar al Tawhid recruits and trains people for al Qaeda in the camps on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, said a police officer.

In Assam, security officials were keeping tabs on groups such as the United Muslim National Army, which is seeking a separate administrative area for Muslims in Assam.

Muslims form 32% of the population in Assam, which has a history of sectarian violence, mostly between ethnic Bodo people and Muslim settlers from bordering Bangladesh.

Concerns over the video were high in strife-torn, Muslim-majority Kashmir, which has been a fertile recruiting ground for global jihadi groups.

A top counter-insurgency officer, who did not want to be identified, told HT several youth are joining radical militant outfits which believe in suicide bombings, unlike the indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen that is against suicide bombings at public places.

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, AG Mir dismissed reports of recruitment of Kashmiri youth by ISIL or al Qaeda but statements by Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin reflect a new thinking among militant groups.

"If al-Qaeda, Taliban or any other organisation or country extends a helping hand to the oppressed Kashmiris, we will welcome it," Salahuddin said in July.

But hardline Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Geelani dismissed fears of al Qaeda finding a base in Kashmir.

"There is no scope of al Qaeda and Taliban here. Ours is a local and indigenous struggle,” said Geelani.

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