India on alert as Al-Qaeda opens South Asia front
India placed several states on high alert on Thursday after Al-Qaeda launched a new branch to “wage jihad” in South Asia, seeking to invigorate its waning Islamist extremist movement.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said the new operation would take the fight to Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, which has a large but traditionally moderate Muslim population.
“We are taking the matter very seriously. Such threats can’t be ignored,” an Indian intelligence source told AFP after Wednesday’s video announcement.
“We have asked the states to be on alert (especially) Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.”
Experts said the group, which has seen its global influence overtaken by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group fighting in Iraq and Syria, would struggle to gain traction in India.
Al-Qaeda once attracted jihadists from around the world to training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
But the core movement, led by Zawahiri since the death in May 2011 of Osama bin Laden, has been eclipsed first by its own offshoots in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and now by IS.
“This is just a publicity stunt, it shows their desperation because IS is now showing that they are the real threat in the world,” said Ajit Kumar Singh, research fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management.