Report on al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s growing influence alarmist: official

Study by New York-based think tank misleading, the top intelligence official said.

Published - January 24, 2019 10:17 pm IST - New Delhi

Silhouette of special forces operators with weapons

Silhouette of special forces operators with weapons

A top intelligence official on Thursday dismissed as ‘alarmist’ a U.S.-based think tank’s report that contends that the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was exploiting the growing incidents of violence against Muslims in India and attacks in the name of “cow vigilantism” to recruit cadres.

Asserting that the study by The Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank, was misleading, the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “researchers appear to have extrapolated isolated instances, imaginatively.”

The report titled ‘AQIS — The Nucleus of Jihad in South Asia’ asserts that the rise in inter-religious clashes in India due to a changing political discourse had resulted in further divisions between Hindus and Muslims. Increasing incidents of violent attacks on Muslims in India, who are accused of eating beef, was being exploited by groups like AQIS to “incite Indian Muslims to join what is being called a fight for their honour,” according to the study’s authors.

“India is a pluralist country with 180 million Muslims,” the intelligence official said. “Indian Islam is based on rich Sufistic traditions of pluralism, inclusivism and composite nationalism. The wave of al-Qaeda in the 1990s and 2000s did not impact the Indian Muslim. The wave of Islamic State had minimal impact, with only about 108 individuals succumbing to its lure. In the past few decades, global Islamist uprisings and terrorism have not impacted the Indian Muslim, as they were based on Jihadism, born out of exclusionism,” the official added, dismissing the report’s premise on the increasing vulnerability of the Indian Muslim to recruitment by the AQIS.

AQIS was created in August 2014 and is led by an Indian, Maulana Asim Umar, who was later identified as U.P. resident Sanaul Haq. In 2015, central intelligence agencies helped Delhi Police arrest three members of AQIS. Two of them, Mohammad Asif and Zafar Masood, belong to Sambhal district in Western U.P. and the third, Rehman, belongs to Orissa. AQIS was banned by the Home Ministry last year.

The Soufan Center also said in its report that there was strong evidence of ties between the AQIS and the LeT. According to the report, AQIS operative Abdul Rehman, who was arrested from Orissa in 2015, travelled to Pakistan in 2014 as a LeT recruit. “ISI facilitated his entry into Karachi via Dubai, but once inside Pakistan, Rahman met with several high-ranking AQIS leaders, including its chief, Asim Umar. Through his LeT contacts, Rehman later joined AQIS. The indictment documents of Abdul Rahman reveal that numerous LeT leaders visited AQIS headquarters in South Waziristan including Sajid Majid, ISI operative who masterminded the 26/11 Mumbai attacks,” it said.

One of the contributors to the report is IPS officer Sajid Farid Shapoo, who is currently a Phd scholar at Woodrow Wilson Scholar, Princeton University. He is also a Senior Fellow at The Soufan Center.

“The common notion that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates only operate and thrive in conflict zones, such as Yemen, Libya, and Syria, is incorrect. AQIS illustrates how al-Qaeda successfully infiltrates, operates, and spreads its ideology in countries experiencing relative calm, like India. This model may prove to be al-Qaeda’s blueprint for the future,” the centre said in its report.

The report said that AQIS maintains a diverse funding portfolio that includes donations from individuals and charities, kidnapping for ransom and money solicited or siphoned from other terrorist groups, including Lashkar e Taiba (LeT). “Since nearly one-third of AQIS’ operating budget is derived from donations from individual citizens, this will make it extremely difficult to counter the group’s finances, a major long-term challenge in combating the group overall,” the report said.

The think tank said the situation in Kashmir had also taken an “unprecedented turn.” “For the first time since the onset of conflict in Kashmir, the region is responding to the appeal of groups like al-Qaeda.”

“We know that terrorist forays into India, in the name of AQIS, are the handiwork of Pakistan’s ISI,” the intelligence official said.

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