Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri announced in a video message released on 30th August the formation of his network’s South Asia chapter, calling it the Organization to Fight Jihad in South Asia.
Their job description is to take care of Al Qaeda’s franchises and wage jihad in Pakistan, India, Burma, and Bangladesh. The organization will be headed by a Pakistani, Sheikh Asim Umar, who “is more of an ideologue than a fighter” according to Ikramullah Mehsud, a jihadi in Central Jail Karachi. The thought behind the move, from Al Qaeda’s point of view, was to choose someone “who has enough knowledge to infiltrate various jihadi groups working in South Asia”, he said.
Al Qaeda, however, is not ignorant about India. According to a senior intelligence source who works in counter-terrorism, “Previously, Al Qaeda was outsourcing its dirty work to local jihadi groups. Ever since Ilyas Kashmiri’s death and the Punjabi Taliban becoming irrelevant, they have been more reliant on Uzbeks and Chechens and had very little local support.” In Asim Umar, he said, “Al Qaeda has found another Kashmiri.”
Asim has studied and lived in Karachi’s Jamia Uloomul Islamia and Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and has a strong affiliation with Kashmiri jihadi group Harkatul Mujhadeen. He has written four books on jihad.
“He is a jolly fellow, not the Al Qaeda type,” according to Moazzam, who was friend with Asim Umar at Jamia Uloom Ul-Islamia. “He was known for his very strong views against democracy and in favor of jihad. He could be described as a Pakistani version of Anwar Alwaki, who was good in indoctrination too.”
[quote]”He is a jolly fellow, not the Al Qaeda type”[/quote]
Karachi, which has a large number of Taliban and Al Qaeda sleeper cells, was among the first targets of Al Qaeda in South Asia (AQIS). “Karachi has been witnessing bizarre hit-and-run incidents lately and we suspect it’s a new network. It could well be the AQIS,” said the Karachi Police chief.
On September 6, when Pakistan celebrates Defense Day, a navy destroyer was almost hijacked by a group of Navy rouges and other militants in a dockyard in Karachi. A naval officer and three militants were killed in the attack. According to a Pakistan Navy official who wished not to disclose his identity, “over 40 people from within have been arrested, including four from Mastung, Balochistan who were to make their way back to Afghanistan.”
Al Qaeda in South Asia took credit for the attempted hijacking of PNS Zulfiqar a day later. They were to use the destroyer to attack an American cruiser in the region, according to a source. This information could not be verified from sources in the navy.
“Our enemy (Pakistan Army) who is the main resistance in the way of liberating the Indian Subcontinent knows well the goal of AQIS, and which countries include the Indian Subcontinent,” said Usama Mahmood, spokesman for AQIS.
Earlier, two police constables died in a gun and grenade attack being linked to AQIS. Police and the bomb disposal squad defused more than four bombs also being linked to AQIS.
In a high profile assassination, ISI Brigadier Zahoor Fazal Qadri was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in Sargoda. The killing was again claimed by AQIS’s Usama Mahmood.
Initial reports show that sectarian outfits played a major role in providing logistics to the terrorists who conducted the attack. “This shows a pattern,” said a senior investigator. “Sectarian organizations need to be curbed once and for all or this will continue.”
AQIS’ first priority seems to be to gain legitimacy among militants groups in South Asia, and that includes sectarian organizations. According to an expert on Al Qaeda and former ISI official commander, “the worst part about this for our own national security is that what if AQIS carries a 26/11 like thing in India? What would be India’s reaction? Obviously we are now becoming the first line of defense, hence more responsibility.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the AQIS plan “delusional”. Modi said: “Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India – they will not want anything bad for India.”
Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan confirmed that militants raise a serious security threat to Pakistan and that security alert had been raised in Pakistan to tackle possible terrorism.
“But they are getting desperate thanks to drone attacks, the operation in North Waziristan, and our pressure in Afghanistan,” a NATO commander in Afghanistan said.