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Home > News > Columnists > B Raman

Why should Al Qaeda be interested in India?

July 04, 2007

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Has Al Qaeda [Images] come to notice for any overt act of jihadi terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir [Images] and other parts of India?

Not so far.

However, pro-Al Qaeda jihadi organisations from Pakistan have been active in Indian territory since 1993.

These are the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which were infiltrated into J&K by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in 1993.

From there, they spread their activities to other parts of India. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, which came into being in 2000 following a split in the HUM, has also been active in Indian territory since its formation.

The HUJI of Bangladesh, known as the HUJI(B), has been active in Indian territory since 9/11.

What are these organisations' links with Al Qaeda?

The HUM and HUJI(B), then operating under the name of Al Jihad, were among the founding members of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by Osama bin Laden in February 1998.

The HUJI of Pakistan and LET joined it in 1999. JEM joined it in 2001.

Al Qaeda depends on them for its operations in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Fazlur Rahman Khalil, the amir (chief) of HUM in 1998, was a signatory to the fatwa issued by bin Laden in 1998, calling for attacks worldwide against American and Israeli nationals and interests.

The leaders of the other organisations have not signed this fatwa. The Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is also a member of the IIF, but it has not been active in Indian territory.

The Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws, whose activities are confined to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, is also a strong supporter of bin Laden and the IIF, but it has not joined the IIF.

Among other members of the IIF are the Taliban (now the Neo Taliban), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Abu Sayyaf of southern Philippines and a Chechen organisation.

What are the common points between these organisations and Al Qaeda?

All are Wahabbi in orientation. All are strongly anti-US and anti-Israel. All emphasise the right of the Ummah (the Muslim community at large) to develop military nuclear capability.

All practise mass casualty terrorism. All rely more on improvised explosive devices -- than on handheld weapons -- and on suicide terrorism for their operations. All recruit members from the Muslim communities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh as well as in the Muslim diaspora in the Gulf, Europe, North America and Australia. All of them support the creation of a global Islamic Caliphate.

All of them oppose Western-style liberal democracy and advocate an Islamic democracy, which, according to them, will be governed by the will of Allah as interpreted by the clerics.

Are there policy differences?

Yes, many.

Only the LEJ supports Al Qaeda's and the Taliban's attacks on the Shias in Afghanistan and Iraq. The other organisations avoid anti-Shia rhetoric and operations.

None of them supports Al Qaeda's attacks on the Saudi monarchy.They hold that while Saudi Arabia may not be an ideal Islamic State, it is the nearest to an ideal Islamic State and hence should not be destabilised.

However, they supported Al Qaeda's past attacks on the American troop presence in Saudi Arabia.

They also refrain from supporting Al Qaeda's characterisation of the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and Algeria as apostate.

They support the creation of independent Muslim States in southern Phillipines, southern Thailand and the Arakan area of Myanmar.

Al Qaeda did not condemn Israeli military operations in Lebanon in July last year as vigorously as it condemned the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

It has now been trying the undermine Hezbollah in Lebanon through its own surrogates in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon like the Fatah-al-Islam.

Al Qaeda has been deafeningly silent on the attempts of the US and Israel to prevent Iran from acquiring a military nuclear capability.

As against this, the Pakistani organisations that are members of the IIF strongly condemned the Israeli operations in Lebanon, supported Hezbollah and defended Iran's right to acquire a military nuclear capability.

They have also refrained from supporting Al Qaeda's attempts to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas.

Are there differences in the way Al Qaeda and these organisations are constituted?

Yes. Al Qaeda is an almost exclusively Arab organisation. Bin Laden has been inducting into the organisation only Arabs known for their personal loyalty to him so that its internal security is not diluted.

An exception was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland. He was a Kuwaiti resident of Pakistani origin.

Before 9/11, when he was operating from Kandahar, Aghanistan, bin Laden had kept the Al Qaeda and IIF training camps separate. Only Arabs were trained in Al Qaeda's camps. Non-Arabs were trained in the IIF camps by Al Qaeda's Arab instructors.

The US cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda camps in Afghan territory in October 1998 mostly struck IIF camps, particularly those of HUM, which suffered the maximum damage.

Has Al Qaeda been using non-Arabs for its operations abroad?

Before 9/11, it was using non-Arabs mainly for the collection of intelligence. Since 9/11, it has been increasingly attempting to use non-Arabs -- particularly Pakistanis -- for its operations in Western Europe and North America.

This is because the Arabs are under strict watch by Western intelligence agencies since 9/11. Hence, its focus on recruiting volunteers from the Pakistani diaspora in West Europe and North America through the member organisations of the IIF, like the LET.

Has Al Qaeda come to notice for any covert activity in India?

When Abu Zubaidah, supposedly the then No 3 in Al Qaeda, was arrested in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab from the house of an LET operative in March 2002, sections of the Pakistani media had reported that he had undergone a computer training course in Pune before crossing over into Pakistan and joining Al Qaeda.

The report of the US National Commission, which had enquired into the 9/11 terrorist strikes, had referred to a visit by Khalid Sheikh to India, but it did not indicate when and why he visited India.

In his confession before a US military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba earlier this year, Khalid Sheikh said among the operations planned by him for Al Qaeda -- but not carried out -- was an attack on the Israeli embassy in India. He did not say when he had planned it and why it was not carried out.

What has been Al Qaeda's attitude toward India?

Before 9/11, India hardly figured in Al Qaeda's statements.

Since 9/11, the references have been more frequent but not as frequent as in the case of other countries.

In 2002 and 2003, bin Laden used to mention what he described as American support to India on the Kashmir issue as one of the reasons for Muslim anger against the US.

In an audio message disseminated in April 2006 in the wake of the visit of US President George W Bush to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan in March 2006, Laden projected the global jihad as directed against what he described as the joint anti-Islam conspiracy of the Crusaders (Christians), the Jewish people and the Hindus.

He had never before referred to Hinduism as part of this global conspiracy.

However, this characterisation of Hindus as part of this conspiracy has not figured in subsequent statements of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's No 2. However, al-Zawahiri's statements have included Jammu and Kashmir as among the historic Muslim lands under occupation by non-Muslims and hence to be liberated.

In his anti-Musharraf statements of 2003, al-Zawahiri had spoken of the danger of Musharraf colluding with Hindus.

Is there any evidence of ideological and/or operational support for Al Qaeda in Indian territory?

A small number of Indian Muslims have joined Pakistani jihadi organisations which are members of the IIF, particularly the LET. This would indicate that they support the IIF's pan-Islamic ideology.

Al Qaeda would not recruit them as its members since it does not take non-Arabs into its fold. However, it could use them for its operations in Indian territory.

When Bush visited India in March 2006, Muslims staged anti-US demonstrations in Lucknow, Mumbai and Hyderabad. There were reports that sections of the Muslims -- particularly in Mumbai -- shouted pro-bin Laden slogans.

Is there any evidence of support for Al Qaeda in the Indian Muslim diaspora abroad?

Al Qaeda had used a Hindu convert to Islam in the UK (Dhiren Barot al-Hindi) for collecting intelligence about its intended financial targets in the US.

He reportedly visited southern Thailand and India on similar intelligence-collection missions. His family had migrated to the UK from East Africa. He was convicted by a British court last year and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.

There were also reports last year making similar allegations against a Gujarati Muslim (Haroon Rashid Aswat) born in the UK. He is reportedly in jail in Pakistan. These allegations have not been proved.

There were also reports last year regarding the alleged involvement of some Muslims of Indian origin from the Carribean in jihadi activities in Canada [Images].

It is to be expected that Al Qaeda, through Pakistani-member organisations of the IIF, will increasingly look for such recruits in the Indian Muslim diaspora.

The majority of Indian Muslims abroad -- like their counterparts in India -- have kept a distance from extremist and jihadi activities. Hence, they have not been subjected to the same kind of intense surveillance as members of the Pakistani diaspora.

They would, therefore, be tempting assets for recruitment.

Is there any support for Al Qaeda and the IIF in Jammu and Kashmir?

Since 1993, there has been support for the Pakistani members of the IIF in Jammu and Kashmir, but there has been no confirmed evidence of any support for Al Qaeda and bin Laden.

Indigenous Kashmiri jihadi organisations believe they will not be able to achieve their objective without US support. Many of their leaders in India as well as in Pakistan remain in touch with US diplomats.

They, therefore, refrain from any statements or activities that might be construed as support to or sympathy for Al Qaeda or bin Laden.

Though the Hizbul Mujahideen enjoys no contacts with the US -- which looks upon it as a terrorist organisation - it too refrains from pro-Al Qaeda statements or activities.

After the explosions in Mumbai suburban trains in July last year which killed 187 people, a person, who gave his name as Abu al Hadeed, had rung up the office of the Current News Service in Srinagar [Images] claiming responsibility in the name of what he described as Al Qaeda of J&K.

Indigenous Kashmiri organisations ridiculed the claim and said there was no such organisation in the state.

On June 8 this year, the same news agency is reported to have received a statement in Urdu recorded in a CD in the name of one Abu Abdal Rehman al-Ansari, described as the amir of the Al Qaeda fil Hind (Al Qaeda in India).

The statement was read out by a masked gunman, who gave his name as Abu Ibrahim al-Asim before a camera.

Whereas last year's statement was in the name of the Al Qaeda of J&K, the June 8 statement has been in the name of the Al Qaeda of India. Both statements referred to al-Ansari as the amir of the Al Qaeda.

The June 8 statement pledges to wage jihad not only on India, but also against all infidels, apostates and hypocrites and against 'enemies masqueradng as friends.'

It criticises both the factions of the Hurriyat Conference and the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council headed by Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen.

While there has so far been no confirmation of the creation of a branch of Al Qaeda in J&K or in other parts of India, it ought to be somewhat worrisome that while the first statement came after the Mumbai blasts of July 2006, the latest statement has come a month before the first anniversary of the blasts.

This could indicate a possible conspiracy for a major act of jihadi terrorism coinciding with the first anniversary -- in Mumbai or elsewhere.

Is there any support for Al Qaeda in Pakistan occupied Kashmir?

Yes, there has been considerable support, particularly among the Mirpuris in the UK.

The Mirpuris are Punjabi-speaking people from Mirpur who migrated to other parts of Pakistan and West Europe when the construction of the Mangla Dam displaced a large number of local farmers and farm workers.

They have been in the forefront of pro-Al Qaeda jihadi activities in the UK.

Members of the Mirpuri community in the UK were involved in the London [Images] explosions of July 2005, in the thwarted conspiracy to blow up a number of US-bound planes in the UK in August last year, and in the so-called fertiliser bomb case in the UK, which was discovered in 2004 and which recently ended in conviction.

Rashid Rauf, allegedly the mastermind of the thwarted conspiracy to blow up the planes last year, who is now in detention in Pakistan, is from the Mirpuri community in the UK. He is related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, the amir of the JEM.

While there may not be still much support for Al Qaeda among the Kashmiris of J&K, the danger of these Mirpuris and their supporters in the Pakistani diaspora in the UK acting as Al Qaeda's cat's paw in J&K and other parts of India is there.

Why should Al Qaeda be interested in India?

Because of India's close relations with the US and Israel. Al Qaeda not only looks upon India as a close associate of the US similar to the UK, but also as providing favourable conditions for its overseas operations directed against US nationals and interests in Indian territory.


B Raman




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