Terror group Al Qaeda is ”shaping” its regional affiliate in the Indian subcontinent to spread its operations into Jammu and Kashmir, Bangladesh and Myanmar, according to a UN report.
The 32nd report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267 ISIL (Da'esh) and Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council, released this week, noted that ”one member State assessed that Al Qaeda is shaping AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) to spread its operations into neighbouring Bangladesh," Jammu and Kashmir and Myanmar.
"That member State also noted that certain limited elements of AQIS are ready to either join or collaborate with ISIL-K (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant- Khorasan),” it said.
The Al Qaeda core in Afghanistan remains stable at 30 to 60 members, while its fighters are estimated to be 400, reaching 2,000 with family members and supporters included, in the country.
In the Indian subcontinent, the Al Qaeda has approximately 200 fighters, with Osama Mehmood being the emir.
Some member States assessed Sayf al-Adl as most likely to succeed Aiman al-Zawahiri as Al Qaeda chief and reportedly still in Iran, the report said.
The member State assessed ISIL-K as the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan and the wider region, benefiting from increased operational capabilities inside Afghanistan. ISIL-K is estimated to have 4,000 to 6,000 members, including family members.
Sanaullah Ghafari is viewed as the most ambitious leader of ISIL-K and while one member State reported that Ghafari was killed in Afghanistan in June, the report noted that this remains to be confirmed.
”ISIL-K is becoming more sophisticated in its attacks against both the Taliban and international targets. The group was focused on carrying out a strategy of high-profile attacks to undermine the Taliban's ability to provide security,” it said.
”Overall, ISIL-K attacks demonstrated strong operational capability involving reconnoitre, coordination, communication, planning and execution. Furthermore, attacks against high-profile Taliban figures in Balkh, Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces raised ISIL-K morale and boosted recruitment,” the report said.
The report further said that Afghanistan remained a place of global significance for terrorism, with approximately 20 terrorist groups operating in the country. One member State assessed that the goal of those terrorist groups is to spread their respective influence across the regions and to build theocratic quasi-State entities.
”The relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda remains close and symbiotic. For the most part, Al Qaeda operates covertly in Afghanistan to help promote the narrative that the Taliban comply with agreements not to use Afghan soil for terrorist purposes,” the report said.
”Under the patronage of high-ranking officials of the de-facto Taliban authorities, Al Qaeda members infiltrate law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies, ensuring the security of Al Qaeda cells dispersed throughout the country,” it said.
Noting that Al Qaeda's capability to conduct large-scale terror attacks remains reduced while its intent remains firm, it said, ”The group uses Afghanistan as an ideological and logistical hub to mobilise and recruit new fighters while covertly rebuilding its external operations capability.”
It noted that Al Qaeda is in a ”reorganisation” phase, establishing new training centres in Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Member States assessed that the terror group would likely remain dormant in the short term while developing its operational capability and outreach.
Al Qaeda leaders seek to strengthen cooperation with regional terrorist groups of non-Afghan origin located in Afghanistan, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, ETIM/TIP (The East Turkestan Islamic Movement/ Turkestan Islamic Party) and Jamaat Ansarullah, intending to infiltrate and establish strongholds in countries in Central Asia.
”One member State assessed that the mid- to long-term prospects of Al Qaeda depend on the overall situation in Afghanistan. Should Afghanistan descend into chaos and insecurity, the base for Al Qaeda would likely strengthen. Should the country achieve stability, Al Qada would likely seek to shift the core to other theatres, such as Yemen or North Africa,” it said.
According to the report, the member states expressed concern that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) could become a regional threat if it continues to have a safe operating base in Afghanistan.
Some member States also registered concern that the TTP might provide an umbrella under which a range of foreign groups operate or even coalesce, avoiding attempts at control by the Taliban.
”One member State noted the possibility of AQIS and TTP merging. It assessed AQIS to be providing guidance to TTP for conducting increased attacks within Pakistan. It was also reported that ETIM/TIP training camps in Kunar Province were being used for TTP fighters.”