Although al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) may never successfully conduct an attack that matches its grand rhetoric, India must continue to closely monitor the terrorist group.
Can al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) make a comeback? Since the establishment of the new al-Qaeda affiliate AQIS in September 2014, the group has not had substantial success, but a new AQIS video renews some the threat from the al-Qaeda affiliate in India.
On September 3, 2013, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri announced the establishment of AQIS. In the 55-minute announcement, Zawahiri used traditional al-Qaeda rhetoric, promising to remove the borders that divide Muslims and take the fight directly to India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Zawahiri claimed AQIS is an effort that took over two years “to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity.” A leader of AQIS, Sheikh Asim Umer, repeated objectives of: violence against the U.S., freeing Indian Muslims of persecution, establishing Sharia law in all of South Asia, and defending the Afghanistan from foreign occupation.
After the establishment of AQIS, many analysts debated the reasons for its creation: was it in response to the rise of ISIS, or was it bolster al-Qaeda’s standing as the top global terrorist group. At the time many analysts also were skeptical if AQIS could have any success at all in India.
Regardless of Zawahiri’s reasoning for establishing AQIS, one thing can be said: the group failed in its mission thus far. Since September, AQIS has only conducted a handful of attacks and fallen out of the headlines almost entirely. The first attack killed Brigadier Fazal Zahoor, a senior officer in the Pakistani Army. The second was a failed attempt to take control of a Pakistani warship to then attack U.S. warships in the Indian Ocean. In November 2014 decrypted communication revealed that AQIS was ‘preparing for a major attack in India.’ But nothing came of the threat, although AQIS did claim responsibility for the killing of Avijit Roy, an American-Bangladeshi blogger killed in Bangladesh, in February 2015.
In a new video, ‘From France to Bangladesh: The Dust Will Never Settle Down’, AQIS explicitly mentioned PM Modi for the first time. Using tradition al-Qaeda rhetoric concerning the injustices against Muslims, Asim Umar said in the video, “Through the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, drone attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s writings… and Narendra Modi’s speeches, which call for Muslims to be burnt alive — this is the same war.”
In September 2014 Prime Minister Modi directly confronted establishment of AQIS, calling their efforts delusional. And although the authenticity of the video has not been verified, an official from the Indian Union Home Ministry addressed this new threat stating that they have increased surveillance of AQIS and that, “A close watch is being kept on activities on the Internet.”
So how seriously should the Indian government take the new threat from AQIS given the militant landscape in the region? Especially, now that a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan killed two senior AQIS leaders, Ustad Ahmad Farooq and Qari ‘Imran in April 2015.
India experiences one of the highest levels of terrorist attacks in the world, ranking 6th out of 124 according to the Global Terrorism Index. In 2013 over 400 people were killed in terrorist attacks and there was an increase in attacks of over 70 percent from 2012 to 2013. Considering this terrorist landscape in India, no threat should be taken lightly. However, based on the track record of AQIS over the past eight months, this al-Qaeda affiliate group is certainly not the greatest terrorist threat India faces. But even though AQIS may not ever successfully conduct a significant attack that matches its grand rhetoric, India must continue to closely monitor AQIS movements, trends, and collaboration with regional terrorist groups. For it only takes one successful attack by AQIS for there to be devastating consequences.