NEW DELHI — Al Qaeda has released a video announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent, saying it is meant to revive jihadist activity in a region that was once “part of the land of Muslims, until the infidel enemy occupied it and fragmented it and split it.”
In the 55-minute video, which was posted on jihadist forums, Al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, addresses listeners in parts of the region with large Muslim populations, assuring Muslims in Burma and Bangladesh; in the Indian cities and states of Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir that “your brothers” in the militant organization “did not forget you and that they are doing what they can to rescue you.”
In recent months, Al Qaeda’s emerging competitor, the Islamic State group, has begun to recruit Indian Muslims, and some analysts viewed the videotaped announcement as a response.
The new entity, Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent, represents the network’s fifth official branch and its first in Asia, adding to branches based in the Sahara region of Africa, in East Africa, in Yemen, and in Syria.
Zawahiri said it had taken more than two years “to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity,” but did not mention smaller groups that might be affiliated. The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online, said the video was posted Wednesday.
Indian news outlets reported Thursday that the country’s Intelligence Bureau had verified the video’s authenticity and had alerted police across the nation to a heightened threat.
Sambit Patra, a spokesman for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, called the announcement “a matter of serious concern.”
Al Qaeda, which has been weakened by military and economic pressure in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has not traditionally recruited heavily in India or staged major attacks on Hindus.
Instead, its ideological focus has been on driving out a “far enemy” — the United States and its allies — from the Middle East. Analysts say its leaders may be wary of provoking conflict with the Indian region’s huge Hindu population.
In his videotaped address, Zawahiri does not make specific reference to the Islamic State group, but he does call for unity among jihadists, saying, “discord is a curse and torment, and disgrace for the believers and glory for the disbelievers.”
Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, a New York security consulting firm that tracks militant websites, called the message “a serious counter-narrative” to the Islamic State expansion.
Some analysts played down the announcement’s significance because Al Qaeda has a limited presence in India, where militant networks rely on local fighters and are driven by local conflicts.