The U.S. said Friday that al-Qaeda’s announcement of a South Asia wing is not a threat but Washington will nevertheless continue to reduce the organization's impact around the world. The Indian government, following the terrorist group's announcement Wednesday, issued a nationwide security alert.
The group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a video released on YouTube, said that the group had formed a branch named “Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Sub-continent” to take its fight against oppressors of Muslims into India, as well as Myanmar and Bangladesh. Al-Qaeda, which is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been trying to reassert itself and limit the growing influence of its now-disowned prodigy, the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, which has drawn fighters from around the world to its cause of forming an Islamic caliphate.
“We do not regard the announcement as an indication of new capabilities by al-Qaeda, which has long been active throughout the region,” Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, said, according to the Press Trust of India, or PTI, adding: “We have seen the reports of al-Qaeda’s new branch on the Indian sub-continent. The US remains committed to dismantling al-Qaeda and ensuring that it never again poses a threat to the American people.”
India and the U.S. have increased cooperation in tackling terrorism since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, when terrorists attacked several high-profile buildings in the country’s financial capital, killing 166 people, including six Americans. Home to about 175 million Muslims, or 15 percent of all Indians, India has the world's third-largest Muslim population.
In the latest video, Zawahiri announced that al-Qaeda's latest effort will benefit Muslims in the Indian states of Assam in the east, Gujarat in the west, and Jammu and Kashmir in the north, and focus on rescuing them from “injustice and oppression.” Zawahiri’s threat is also expected to be one of the key topics of discussion when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Washington to meet with President Barack Obama later this month, PTI reported.
“We have seriously degraded al-Qaeda in the region, and will continue our efforts against the group and affiliates that pose a threat to the American people,” Hayden added, according to PTI.
On Thursday, after the al-Qaeda video was widely reported, the Indian home ministry announced an alert throughout the country, though the government did not specify what extra steps would be taken in response to the group's threats. Local Muslim groups in the country said that they would fight back al-Qaeda if it entered the country.
"Indian Muslims are loyal citizens of their country and they will fight al Qaeda if it ever tried to create a presence here," Zafarul-Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlise Mushawarat, an organization of Muslim groups in the country, told Reuters.