The United States alerted India about al Qaeda’s plans to expand operations into the Indian sub-continent in late August, sources said on Thursday, as part of the two countries’ close intelligence cooperation that is set to become stronger during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington later this month.
Government sources told HT that al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahri’s video statement did not come as a surprise to Indian agencies, which see it as a response to the growing clout of ISIS among Islamic radicals.
“Zawahri’s statement of launching al Qaeda in the Indian sub-continent is a desperate attempt to stop the radicals from gravitating towards the so-called caliphate declared by ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said a top Indian counter-terror operative.
“This is not only competitive jihad but also an attempt by al Qaeda to recapture lost ground among Sunni Muslim radicals. It is a matter of serious concern to India as the new branch will launch terror attacks as spectacular and gruesome as ISIS’ beheading tapes.”
“Zawahri fell out with al-Baghdadi over the question of support to the al Nusra group in Syria in 2011.
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The internal security establishment has taken Zawahri’s tape very seriously with counter-terror agencies directly talking to state police chiefs on Thursday and asking them to take pro-active steps in case radicals decide to fly al Qaeda flags in support.
Already, ISIS flags have been seen in Kashmir Valley and on T-shirts worn by some Muslim youth in Tamil Nadu. “A country-wide alert by the multi-agency centre has been sounded since morning and efforts are being made to reach out to (the) Muslim community to report in case youth are being radicalized in the name of al Qaeda,” said a senior home ministry official.
While the US tip-off to the Research and Analysis Wing (RA&W) gave Indian agencies extra time to prepare for the new al Qaeda branch, South Block is seriously looking at setting up a joint group on countering violent extremism (CVE) so that critical information on radical Salafi groups could be shared in real time.
“The purpose of CVE interaction is to study the way US is preparing legislative framework against Muslim youth joining global jihad with ISIS in Iraq and see whether a similar variation can be applied in India,” said an intelligence official.
Read: States on alert after al Qaeda announces India wing
Counter-terrorism officials expect Zawahiri will use the al Qaeda-affiliated, Af-Pak-based Ansar ul Tauhid group for attacks in the sub-continent, particularly as its members were earlier with the Indian Mujahideen.
Ansar ul Tauhid was set up after Indian radicals from Azamgarh and Bhatkal broke away from IM founders Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, due to interference from Pakistan’s ISI in selecting Indian targets, and joined al Qaeda.
HT Analysis: Has Asia become a fertile ground for al Qaeda?