New UN report highlights al-Qaeda affiliate AQIS threat to Jammu and Kashmir | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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New UN report highlights al-Qaeda affiliate AQIS threat to Jammu and Kashmir

Jul 27, 2023 04:54 PM IST

The UN report also said the relationship between the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban, which captured power in Kabul in August 2021, “remains close and symbiotic”

NEW DELHI: Al-Qaeda maintains a “close and symbiotic” relationship with the Afghan Taliban and is shaping its regional affiliate to expand operations to Jammu and Kashmir, Bangladesh and Myanmar, according to a new United Nations report.

The UN report said al-Qaeda members have infiltrated law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies and ensure security of the group’s cells across Afghanistan (Reuters File)
The UN report said al-Qaeda members have infiltrated law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies and ensure security of the group’s cells across Afghanistan (Reuters File)

The report on global operations of al-Qaeda and Islamic State by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council said that al-Qaeda has an estimated 400 fighters in Afghanistan, while its affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), has about 200 fighters led by Osama Mehmood.

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Al-Qaeda is “shaping AQIS to spread its operations” into Jammu and Kashmir, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the report said, citing an assessment by an unnamed UN member state. This member state also noted that “certain limited elements of AQIS are ready to either join or collaborate with ISIL-K,” the report added, referring to the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP), the global terror network’s chapter in Afghanistan.

Another UN member state noted the possibility of AQIS merging with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been emboldened by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. This member state “assessed AQIS to be providing guidance to TTP for conducting increased attacks within Pakistan”, the report said.

The creation of AQIS was announced by former al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in September 2014, and Pakistan-based Asim Umar was the affiliate’s original leader. Osama Mehmood, believed to be a Pakistani national, became head of AQIS in 2019 after Umar was killed in a US-Afghan military operation. There are no reports so far of AQIS cooperating with the Islamic State-Khorasan Province in the region.

AQIS has largely been unable to carry out large-scale attacks outside Pakistan, where it claimed responsibility for killing a brigadier of the Pakistan Army in September 2014 and for attacking a police complex in a Karachi suburb in January 2017. Experts believe the group has been unable to gain traction in India, where the group’s leader, Mohammad Asif, was arrested in late 2015.

However, AQIS published a so-called “code of conduct” in June 2017 that outlined the group’s goal of carrying out attacks in Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar. It also issued a statement in English and Urdu in June 2022 calling for attacks in India.

According to the UN report, Afghanistan “remained a place of global significance for terrorism, with approximately 20 terrorist groups operating in the country.” The goal of these terror groups is to “spread their respective influence across the regions and to build theocratic quasi-state entities”, the report said.

The relationship between the Afghan Taliban, which captured power in Kabul in August 2021, and al-Qaeda “remains close and symbiotic”. However, al-Qaeda “operates covertly in Afghanistan to help promote the narrative that the Taliban comply with agreements not to use Afghan soil for terrorist purposes”, the report said.

Under the patronage of high-ranking Taliban officials, al-Qaeda members “infiltrate law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies”, ensuring the security of the group’s cells across Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda’s capability to conduct large-scale terror attacks “remains reduced while its intent remains firm”.

Al-Qaeda uses Afghanistan as an ideological and logistical hub to recruit new fighters while “covertly rebuilding its external operations capability”, and the group has set up new training centres in Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Al-Qaeda is also working to strengthen cooperation with non-Afghan terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) and Jamaat Ansarullah.

Some UN member states assessed Sayf al-Adl remains the most likely successor to al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a US drone strike in Kabul in July 2022, and he is reportedly still in Iran.

UN member states also assessed Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) as the “most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan and the wider region”, according to the UN report. IS-KP is estimated to have 4,000 to 6,000 members, with Mawlawi Rajab the leader of the group’s external operations.

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