Asim Umar

Asim Umar was the U.S.-designated emir (leader) of al-Qaeda’s South Asian affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).“State Department Terrorist Designations,” U.S. Department of State, June 30, 2016, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/06/259219.htm. The branch was founded in September 2014 by al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appointed Umar as the group’s leader in a video message in September 2014.Asim Tanveer and Maria Golovnina, “Al Qaeda’s shadowy new ‘emir’ in South Asia handed tough job,” Reuters, September 9 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/09/us-southasia-alqaeda-insight-idUSKBN0H42DN20140909. Before his promotion to emir of AQIS, Umar reportedly served as the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, as well as al-Qaeda’s senior sharia official in Pakistan.Thomas Joscelyn, “Pakistani Taliban leader discusses ‘global jihad,’ Syria in al Qaeda video,” Long War Journal, July 24, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/_umar_is_the_author.php;
Thomas Joscelyn, “Social Media Jihad: Open interview with al Qaeda’s sharia official in Pakistan,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/04/social_media_jihad_open_interv.php.
Umar was killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation on September 23, 2019 in Musa Qala, Afghanistan.Bill Roggio, “Afghan intelligence confirms death of AQIS emir,” Long War Journal, October 8, 2020, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/10/afghan-intelligence-confirms-death-of-aqis-emir.php.

Umar was reportedly born in the city of Sambhal, in India’s Uttar Pradesh province in the late 1960s or early 1970s.Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury and Rahul Tripathi, “Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent releases audio speech warning fighters against harming innocent Muslims,” Economic Times (Mumbai), June 2, 2016, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/al-qaeda-in-indian-subcontinent-releases-audio-speech-warning-fighters-against-harming-innocent-muslims/articleshow/52544561.cms. Before joining al-Qaeda, Umar had experience fighting Indian troops in Kashmir alongside Islamist militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI).Asim Tanveer and Maria Golovnina, “Al Qaeda’s shadowy new ‘emir’ in South Asia handed tough job,” Reuters, September 9 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/09/us-southasia-alqaeda-insight-idUSKBN0H42DN20140909. Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, Umar reportedly instructed students at radical seminaries in Pakistan.“More Qaeda-Pak links: AQIS chief was at ‘ISI’ PoK camp,” Indian Express (New Delhi), accessed August 10, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/more-qaeda-pak-links-aqis-chief-was-at-isi-pok-camp/. Umar was believed to facilitate the move of Osama bin Laden to his safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the mid-2000s.Asim Tanveer and Maria Golovnina, “Al Qaeda’s shadowy new ‘emir’ in South Asia handed tough job,” Reuters, September 9 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/09/us-southasia-alqaeda-insight-idUSKBN0H42DN20140909. He became closely involved with al-Qaeda in 2007 after Pakistani security forces besieged the Lal Masjid seminary, killing 100 people, many of them students.“Al-Qaeda chief in region may be of Indian origin: Intel agencies,” Indian Express (New Delhi), accessed August 10, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/al-qaeda-chief-in-region-may-be-of-indian-origin-intel-agencies/99/;
“Harkut-ul-Mujahedeen,” Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations, accessed August 10, 2015, http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/219;
“Court demands Red Mosque answers,” BBC News, August 28, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6967537.stm.

Umar has reportedly written numerous books, translating them into Pashto, Uzebk, and Arabic. According to sources close to Umar, he has eyed the Indian subcontinent as a potential theater of jihad for years. He has even released videos directed at Kashmiri Muslims in the hopes of recruiting them to fight against their secular government.“Al-Qaeda chief in region may be of Indian origin: Intel agencies,” Indian Express (New Delhi), accessed August 10, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/al-qaeda-chief-in-region-may-be-of-indian-origin-intel-agencies/99/;
“Harkut-ul-Mujahedeen,” Stanford Mapping Militant Organizations, accessed August 10, 2015, http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/219.

In an official AQIS video in May 2015, Umar claimed responsibility for the murder of numerous secular bloggers and professors in Bangladesh and Pakistan. He declared that the assassinations were “part of a series of operations initiated by…Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri,” and that it was “equally part of our commitment to fulfill the oath of Sheikh Osama [bin Laden].”Ellen Barry, “Al Qaeda Branch Claims Responsibility for Bangladeshi Blogger’s Killing,” New York Times, May 3, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/world/asia/bangladesh-al-qaeda-indian-subcontinent-attack-on-bloggers.html. While Umar appears in nearly all of AQIS’s videos, his face is always concealed.

On September 23, 2019, the United States launched a joint operation with the Afghan military, carrying out a raid in Musa Qala, southern Afghanistan. On October 8, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) confirmed that along with Umar, six other militants were killed during the operation. The NDS also claimed that Usama Mahmood, AQIS’s spokesman, is now the leader of AQIS.“Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent chief Asim Umar killed in Afghanistan,” The Hindu, October 8, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/al-qaeda-in-the-indian-subcontinent-chief-asim-umar-killed-in-afghanistan/article29618954.ece.; Bill Roggio, “Afghan intelligence confirms death of AQIS emir,” Long War Journal, October 8, 2020, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/10/afghan-intelligence-confirms-death-of-aqis-emir.php.

United States

The U.S. Department of State designated Asim Umar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on June 30, 2016.“State Department Terrorist Designations,” U.S. Department of State, June 30, 2016, https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/06/259219.htm.

Return to Full Database

Take action:

Help Counter Extremism

Stay updated on the latest

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

View Archive

CEP on Twitter