Al-Qaeda announces Indian wing as leader renews loyalty to Taliban’s Mullah Omar
Ayman al-Zawahiri says force will 'crush the artificial borders' dividing Muslims
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri launched a new branch of the global Islamist extremist movement to expand its struggle in the Indian sub-continent.
In a video spotted on Wednesday in online jihadist forums by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, Zawahiri said the new force would "crush the artificial borders" dividing Muslim populations in the region.
Al-Qaeda is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where its surviving leadership are thought to be hiding out, but Zawahiri said "Qaedat al-Jihad" would take the fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
"This entity was not established today but is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian sub-continent into a single entity," he said.
Founded by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda has long claimed leadership of the jihadis fighting to restore a single caliphate in Muslim lands. But, since bin Laden's death in 2011, it has been somewhat eclipsed, first by its own offshoots in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and now by the Islamic State jihadist group fighting in Iraq and Syria.
While still regarded as a threat to the West, Al-Qaeda has never managed to repeat the spectacular success of the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington.
But, in launching the group, Zawahiri may be attempting to recapture some of the limelight for al-Qaeda and exploit existing unrest in Kashmir and Myanmar.
"It is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam, Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy upon him," Zawahiri said.
Zawahiri called on the ummah, or Muslim nation, to unite around tawhid, or monotheism, "to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate".
He said the group would recognise the overarching leadership of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, and be led day-to-day by senior Pakistani militant Asim Umar.
The 55-minute video begins with stock footage of the late bin Laden giving a sermon, before cutting to a satellite map of southwest Asia, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and the Horn of Africa. Then it cuts to a white-bearded Zawahiri.
Umar also speaks in the video - using the Urdu language of Pakistan - along with a new group spokesman identified as Usama Mahmoud. The Pakistani speakers are not shown.
Zawahiri singles out Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir - Indian regions with large Muslim populations - along with Bangladesh and Myanmar, as territories targeted by the new organisation.
Millions of Muslims fled India for what is now Pakistan in 1947 when the British Empire partitioned the two countries at independence, and tensions persist between those who remain and the Hindu majority.