Overview

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is a U.S.-designated terrorist group and al-Qaeda’s newest affiliate.Alastair Reed, “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent: A New Frontline in the Global Jihadist Movement?,” ICCT Policy Brief, May 2015, 1, https://www.icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ICCT-Reed-Al-Qaeda-in-the-Indian-Subcontinent-May2016.pdf;
“State Department Terrorist Designations,” U.S. Department of State, June 30, 2016, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/06/259219.htm.
Founded in September 2014, the group has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks in the region, including the September 6, 2014, attempted seizure of a Pakistan navy frigate in a naval dockyard in Karachi, Pakistan. The group has also claimed responsibility for the murders of secular activists, writers, professors, and doctors in Bangladesh.Dr. Shaul Shay, “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ‘Jihad on the Seas,’” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, November 25, 2014, http://www.ict.org.il/Article/1256/Al-Qaeda-in-the-Indian-Subcontinent;Syed Shoaib Hasan, Saeed Shah and Siobhan Gorman, “Al Qaeda Militants Tried to Seize Pakistan Navy Frigate,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/al-qaeda-militants-tried-to-seize-pakistan-navy-frigate-1410884514;
“State Department Terrorist Designations,” U.S. Department of State, June 30, 2016, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/06/259219.htm.
AQIS reportedly operates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.Bill Roggio, “US adds Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, leader to terrorism list,” Long War Journal, June 30, 2016, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/us-adds-al-qaeda-in-the-indian-subcontinent-leader-to-terrorism-list.php.

AQIS is al-Qaeda’s fifth official chapter.

AQIS was formed after a two-year effort to consolidate jihadist factions on the Indian Subcontinent, according to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who announced the affiliate’s formation in a video dated September 3, 2014.Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda Opens Branch in the ‘Indian Subcontinent,’” Long War Journal, September 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_opens_branc.php.Included in the group’s ranks are Taliban fighters loyal to both Zawahiri and Taliban emir Mullah Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, who assumed this position in May 2015 following the death of the Taliban’s former emir, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Name New Leader After Confirming Predecessor Died in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, May 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-new-leader.html.

Analysts generally believe that al-Zawahiri created AQIS in order to steal the limelight from expanding ISIS and therefore promote al-Qaeda’s brand. The Diplomat’s Jordan Olmstead asserts that “AQIS isn’t about India—it’s about preserving al-Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” especially amid rivalries with ISIS and the Pakistani army for influence and control over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.Jordan Olmstead, “The Real Reason al-Qaeda Is Establishing an India Branch,” Diplomat, September 23, 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/09/the-real-reason-al-qaeda-is-establishing-an-india-branch/. Flashpoint Global Partners senior analyst Laith Alkhouri called the group’s formation at the time “a serious counternarrative to the ISIS expansion.”Ellen Barry, “Al Qaeda Open New Branch on Indian Subcontinent,” New York Times, September 4, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/world/asia/al-qaeda-announces-new-branch-on-indian-subcontinent.html.

However, an unnamed jihadist close to AQIS told Reuters, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s new chief al-Zawahri started the reorganization of al-Qaeda, with its main focus on South Asia.” Sources close to AQIS’s emir (leader) told Reuters that Umar has eyed the Indian subcontinent for many years, and has released videos propagandizing to Kashmiri Muslims in a hope to recruit them to fight the secular governments.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.

AQIS has claimed responsibility for the murders of a number of secular activists.

Analysts have downplayed the threat of AQIS and al-Qaeda central to the subcontinent. “Al-Qaeda first mentioned India as a target in 1996, when bin Laden made a reference to both Jammu and Kashmir and Assam,” said Ajai Sahni of India’s Institute for Conflict Management. “Since then, it has not been able to achieve anything significant in both these Indian states.”Rezaul Hasan Laskar, “Al Qaeda’s Indian Subcontinent Wing an Old Plan,” India Today (Noida), September 14, 2014, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/al-qaeda-india-wing-an-old-plan/1/382752.html. However, AQIS launched its first attack three days after its founding. On September 6, 2014, AQIS militants attempted to seize a Pakistani navy frigate, from which they planned to launch missiles at nearby American and Pakistani ships. Ten militants and one officer died in an ensuing suicide bombing and shootout.Dr. Shaul Shay, “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ‘Jihad on the Seas,’” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, November 25, 2014, http://www.ict.org.il/Article/1256/Al-Qaeda-in-the-Indian-Subcontinent;
Syed Shoaib Hasan, Saeed Shah and Siobhan Gorman, “Al Qaeda Militants Tried to Seize Pakistan Navy Frigate,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/al-qaeda-militants-tried-to-seize-pakistan-navy-frigate-1410884514.

AQIS has claimed responsibility for the murder of a number of secular activists. In May 2015, the group claimed responsibility for the murder of atheist bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman in Bangladesh and liberal professors Mohammad Shakil Auj and Shafiul Islam in Pakistan.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent Leader Says Attacks on ‘Blasphemers’ Ordered by Zawahiri,” Long War Journal, May 3, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/05/al-qaeda-in-the-indian-subcontinent-says-attacks-on-blasphemers-ordered-by-zawahiri.php. In October 2015, AQIS’s Bangladesh branch, known as Ansar al Islam, claimed responsibility for the killing of Faisal Arefin Dipon, a Bangladeshi publisher of secular books. Another publisher, Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, was also targeted but not killed.“Bangladeshi secular publisher hacked to death,” BBC News, October 31, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34688245; “Ansar-Al-Islam claims responsibility of attacks on writers, publishers,” NTVBD, October 21, 2015, http://en.ntvbd.com/bangladesh/11823/Ansar-Al-Islam-claims-responsibility-of-attacks-on-writers-publishers. In April 2016, Ansar al Islam claimed responsibility for the murders of secular campaigner Nazimuddin Samad, and the editors of an LGBT magazine, Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar.“BANGLADESH DIVISION OF AQIS CLAIMS MURDER OF BLOGGER NAZIMUDDIN SAMAD,” SITE Intelligence, April 8, 2016, https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/bangladesh-division-of-aqis-claims-murder-of-blogger-nazimuddin-samad.html; Eliott C. McLaughlin and Don Melvin, “LGBT editor and friend hacked to death in Bangladeshi capital,” CNN, April 26, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/25/asia/bangladesh-u-s-embassy-worker-killed/.

Doctrine:

Like al-Qaeda Central, AQIS ascribes to a Salafi ideology whose central tenet is waging jihad in order to wrest power from what al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri calls the “infidel enemy” and impose rule by sharia (Islamic law).Ellen Barry, “Al Qaeda Open New Branch on Indian Subcontinent,” New York Times, September 4, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/world/asia/al-qaeda-announces-new-branch-on-indian-subcontinent.html. In the group’s first video, released on September 3, 2014, Zawahiri declared that AQIS would “raise the flag of jihad, return the Islamic rule, and [empower] the Shariah of Allah across the Indian subcontinent.”Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda Opens Branch in the ‘Indian Subcontinent,’” Long War Journal, September 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_opens_branc.php.

[AQIS seeks to] establish sharia in the land and to free the occupied land of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent.Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda

Salafis hold that Muslims should emulate the actions of the first generation of Muslim leaders—known as the righteous ancestors (al-Salaf al-Salih)—and disregard more than a thousand years of Islamic jurisprudence. Al-Qaeda believes it is fighting a “defensive jihad” against the United States and its allies, defending Muslim lands from the “new crusade led by America against the Islamic nations…” according to Osama bin Laden.Christopher Blanchard, “Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology,” Congressional Research Service, July 9, 2007, 2-3, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32759.pdf. In the first issue of al-Qaeda’s new English language magazine Resurgence,“In Issue I Of Al-Qaeda English Magazine ‘Resurgence,’ American Spokesman Adam Gadahn Echoes Anti-Israel BDS Movement – Urges Boycott, Embargo Of Western Economic Interests, Financial Institutions; Says ‘This War Is Still In Infancy,’” Middle East Media Research Institute, October 23, 2014, http://www.memrijttm.org/in-cover-story-of-first-issue-of-new-english-language-magazine-resurgence-published-by-al-qaeda-media-wing-al-sahab-american-spokesman-adam-gadahn-echoes-anti-israel-bds-movement-in-urging-boycott-embargo-of-western-economic-interests-inte.html. which appeared on jihadist forums in October 2014, its editor Hasaan Yusuf wrote: “It was Jihad that brought Islam to the Indian Subcontinent, and it will be Jihad again that will overturn the legacy of imperialism from Pakistan to Bangladesh and beyond.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Analysis: Al Qaeda’s ‘Resurgence’ focuses on Indian Subcontinent,” Long War Journal, October 23, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/10/al_qaedas_resurgence-2.php. Through its “defensive jihad,” AQIS seeks to “[e]stablish sharia in the land and to free the occupied land of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent,” as Ayman al-Zawahiri said in the video announcing AQIS’s formation.“Qaedat al-Jihad/al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS),” Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, accessed July 1, 2015, http://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/qaedat-al-jihad-0.

Necessary to AQIS’s ideology is the indoctrinated prophecy—found in the Hadith, oral traditions of the prophet Muhammad—of Ghazwa-e-Hind, the “final battle in India.”Abhishek Bhalla, “Al-Qaeda Plans Final Jihad for India: Intel Report Points to Terror Recruitment Drive Targeting Nation’s Muslims,” Daily Mail (London), July 16, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2694949/Al-Qaeda-plans-final-jihad-India-Intel-report-points-terror-recruitment-drive-targeting-nations-Muslims.html. Al-Qaeda and AQIS members believe in an impending, apocalyptic war with the Indian state, resulting in the fall of the Hindu nation to Islam and the recreation of the caliphate.Husain Haqqani, “Prophecy & the Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent,” Hudson Institute, March 27, 2015, http://www.hudson.org/research/11167-prophecy-the-jihad-in-the-indian-subcontinent. In Zawahiri’s announcement of the new affiliate, “Pakistan was mentioned only as a country that needed to be brought under full Sharia rule while Hindu India was portrayed as the enemy of Islam,” said Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute senior fellow and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani, “Prophecy & the Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent,” Hudson Institute, March 27, 2015, http://www.hudson.org/research/11167-prophecy-the-jihad-in-the-indian-subcontinent.

A 20-page “Code of Conduct” published by AQIS in June 2017 reiterated the group’s intentions of attacking targets––particularly military related––in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. While the document claimed that Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist civilians and places of worship would not be attacked, it called for increased attacks on both active-duty and off-duty soldiers, as well as Americans operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.Naina Chaturvedi, “New Al-Qaeda Document Says The Global Terror Outfit Will Target Indian Army Officers,” Huffington Post, June 27, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/06/26/indian-officers-who-have-blood-of-kashmiri-brothers-on-their-ha_a_23003327/; “AQIS Publishes its “Code of Conduct,” Declares U.S. Citizens and Interests in Pakistan its “Foremost Priority”,” Site Intelligence Group, June 25, 2017, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/aqis-publishes-its-code-of-conduct-declares-u-s-citizens-and-interests-in-pakistan-its-foremost-priority.html; Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIS emphasizes allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, Taliban in new ‘code of conduct,’” Long War Journal, June 26, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/aqis-emphasizes-allegiance-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-taliban-in-new-code-of-conduct.php. The “Code of Conduct” also reiterated the group’s allegiance to al-Qaeda Central and the Taliban, and stated that one of its principal aims is defending and strengthening the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” by working with the Taliban.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIS emphasizes allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, Taliban in new ‘code of conduct,’” Long War Journal, June 26, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/aqis-emphasizes-allegiance-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-taliban-in-new-code-of-conduct.php.

AQIS prioritizes American targets in Pakistan and strives for a complete American withdrawal from the region, according to the Code of Conduct document.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIS emphasizes allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, Taliban in new ‘code of conduct,’” Long War Journal, June 26, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/aqis-emphasizes-allegiance-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-taliban-in-new-code-of-conduct.php. While AQIS maintains its focus on jihad in the regions specified above, it also supports and espouses al-Qaeda’s broader objective to conduct attacks against the United States and other Western targets.Thomas Joscelyn, “The US Intelligence Community’s newest assessment of the jihadist threat,” Long War Journal, May 15, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/05/the-us-intelligence-communitys-newest-assessment-of-the-jihadist-threat.php.

Organizational Structure:

In December 2014, AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmoud released a statement detailing the group’s operational structure, saying, “Although al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was announced this year [2014], we started operating under one Shura [consultative] committee and one commander almost a year ago.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Analysis: Al Qaeda’s ‘Resurgence’ Focuses on Indian Subcontinent,” Long War Journal, October 23, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/10/al_qaedas_resurgence-2.php. In its “Code of Conduct” released in June 2017, AQIS explained that it operates with an emir, a vice emir, and a shura council, which acts as an advisory board. The emir and shura council can consult with each other to make administrative changes. AQIS also has a sharia committee, which provides guidance on matters of sharia law. A military committee provides guidance on military matters, such as the treatment of prisoners.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIS emphasizes allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, Taliban in new ‘code of conduct,’” Long War Journal, June 26, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/aqis-emphasizes-allegiance-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-taliban-in-new-code-of-conduct.php.

Like other al-Qaeda outfits, AQIS’s command structure may also include political, propaganda, and religious arms. However, AQIS is closely linked to the Taliban, and may therefore share some organizational aspects with that group. AQIS members have at times fought under the Taliban’s flag and are integrated into the Taliban’s chain-of-command. According to the Long War Journal, this may account for AQIS’s apparent lack of battlefield propaganda.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIS emphasizes allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, Taliban in new ‘code of conduct,’” Long War Journal, June 26, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/aqis-emphasizes-allegiance-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-taliban-in-new-code-of-conduct.php.

Analysts have alleged that AQIS may be broken into regional branches, including in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Karachi, Pakistan.Anurag Chandran, “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent: Almost Forgotten,” Critical Threats AEI, September 3, 2015, http://www.criticalthreats.org/al-qaeda/chandran-al-qaeda-in-indian-subcontinent-backgrounder-september-3-2015#_ednref30. AQIS’s Bangladesh branch is officially known as Ansar al Islam, and has claimed responsibility for a number of the attacks against secularists in the country.“BANGLADESH DIVISION OF AQIS CLAIMS MURDER OF BLOGGER NAZIMUDDIN SAMAD,” SITE Intelligence, April 8, 2016, https://ent.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/bangladesh-division-of-aqis-claims-murder-of-blogger-nazimuddin-samad.html;
“Ansar-Al-Islam claims responsibility of attacks on writers, publishers,” NTVBD, October 21, 2015, http://en.ntvbd.com/bangladesh/11823/Ansar-Al-Islam-claims-responsibility-of-attacks-on-writers-publishers.

Although AQIS is not presently active in Myanmar, al-Qaeda officials have called on AQIS to carry out attacks in the country in response to government-inflicted violence against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group.“Yemeni al Qaeda leader calls for attacks in support of Mynamar’s Rohingya,” Reuters, September 2, 2017, https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKCN1BD0U0. The Myanmar-based Harakat al-Yaqin, in part responsible for the recent escalation in violence in the country, is reported to have had contact with al-Qaeda officials in the past.“Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State,” International Crisis Group, December 15, 2016, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/283-myanmar-new-muslim-insurgency-rakhine-state.

Financing:

Little is publicly known about AQIS’s funding. It is suspected that AQIS is supported by al-Qaeda central, which receives funding from private donors, charities and foundations, drug trafficking, and state sponsors of terrorism, among other sources.

Recruitment:

Before Ayman al-Zawahiri announced AQIS’s formation in September 2014, al-Qaeda looked to recruit jihadists in the disputed territory of Kashmir, a longtime hotbed of foreign jihadist elements. AQIS’s emir, Asim Umar, reportedly spent years disseminating recruitment videos to Kashmiri Muslims. 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/. An al-Qaeda video released three months before AQIS’s formation featured Umar, the then-commander of an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan. Umar called on Kashmiri Muslims to wage jihad on India.Jason Burke, “Al-Qaida Video Urges Muslims in Kashmir to Wage Jihad on India,” Guardian (London), June 14, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/14/al-qaida-video-muslims-kashmir-jihad-india. An intelligence report alleged in July 2014 that the prophecy of Ghazwa-e-Hind, or the “final battle in India,” was being used by al-Qaeda and the Taliban to drive recruits into Kashmir.Abhishek Bhalla, “Al-Qaeda Plans Final Jihad for India: Intel Report Points to Terror Recruitment Drive Targeting Nation’s Muslims,” Daily Mail (London), July 16, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2694949/Al-Qaeda-plans-final-jihad-India-Intel-report-points-terror-recruitment-drive-targeting-nations-Muslims.html.

Asim Umar reportedly spent years disseminating recruitment videos to Kashmiri Muslims.

Recruiting inside India has historically been difficult for al-Qaeda, as Indian Muslims have not felt the same grievances that may pull others into the organization.Shashank Bengali, “Al Qaeda Leader Says Terrorist Network Branching Out to India,” Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-al-qaeda-threatens-india-prompting-20140904-story.html. South Asia expert Jason Burke wrote, “Though there are some signs of increasing radicalisation in India, recruitment to extremist networks there is negligible.”Jason Burke, “Al-Qaida Video Urges Muslims in Kashmir to Wage Jihad on India,” Guardian (London), June 14, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/14/al-qaida-video-muslims-kashmir-jihad-india. Amir Rana of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies was also skeptical of AQIS’s recruitment strength within India, as well as Burma. Rana told the Los Angeles Times that it will “be very tough for [AQIS] to establish an infrastructure in India. It may be able to establish it in some part of the Indian side of Kashmir. In the past it had failed to attract Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.”Shashank Bengali, “Al Qaeda Leader Says Terrorist Network Branching Out to India,” Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-al-qaeda-threatens-india-prompting-20140904-story.html.

AQIS’s online propaganda, including videos and PDF magazines, plays a large role in recruiting South Asian Muslims to the jihad on the subcontinent. Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab media arm has produced videos of speeches appealing to young Muslims in India, specifically in Bihar, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and South India.“AQIS Bangla Video Calls Bangladeshi Muslims to Battlefield, Shows Base of Fighters,” SITE Intelligence Group, November 29, 2014, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/aqis-bangla-video-calls-bangladeshi-muslims-to-battlefield-shows-base-of-fighters.html. In the group’s inaugural announcement, Zawahiri specifically referenced the Indian districts of Assam, Gujarat, and Ahmedabad, three areas whose Muslim minorities have experienced or engaged in sectarian unrest in recent years.Ishaan Tharoor, “Why al-Qaeda is Opening a New Wing in South Asia,” Washington Post, September 3, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/09/03/why-al-qaeda-is-opening-a-new-wing-in-south-asia/. This reference may have been intended as a psychological appeal to disaffected Muslim youth within India and across the subcontinent.

AQIS’s online propaganda plays a large role in recruiting South Asian Muslims to terrorism.

Trying to bolster its image and draw new recruits, al-Qaeda released a new English-language magazine, Resurgence, in October 2014. The first issue focused heavily on the brand’s new affiliate. AQIS emir Asim Umar wrote an article deriding the Indian government and its policies towards Muslims. He aimed to appeal to Indian Muslims, writing, “We have little doubt that, sooner or later, the Muslims of India too will come to the realization that their future is inextricably linked to the success of the Afghan Jihad [by the Taliban and al-Qaeda].” In August 2016, AQIS began translating its propaganda into Tamil and Malayam in an attempt to reach South Indian Muslims.Shweta Desai, “Al Qaeda goes local, uses Tamil and Malayalam for recruitment in South India,” Daily News and Analysis India, August 27, 2016, http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-al-qaeda-goes-local-uses-tamil-and-malayalam-for-recruitment-in-south-india-2249213; Vicky Nanjappa, “First a message in Tamil, now a hiring desk at TN by al Qaeda,” Oneindia.com, August 23, 2016, https://www.oneindia.com/india/with-a-message-in-tamil-al-qaeda-now-trying-to-make-inroads-in-tn-2189422.html.

Beyond videos and online magazines, little is known about AQIS’s recruitment tactics.

Two weeks after the group’s formation in September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that AQIS would struggle to recruit Indian Muslims to its cause. Modi declared, “If anyone thinks Indian Muslims will dance to their tune, they are delusional. Indian Muslims will live for India. They will die for India.” Laura Smith-Spark, “Al Qaeda Will Fail to Recruit India’s Muslims, Prime Minister Says,” CNN, September 21, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/19/world/asia/india-modi-extremists/.

Training:

Little is known about how AQIS trains its soldiers. In the group’s inaugural video in September 2014, Zawahiri announced the membership of “soldiers of the Islamic Emirate” (meaning the Afghan Taliban) in AQIS.Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda opens branch in the ‘Indian Subcontinent,’” Long War Journal, September 3, 2014, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_opens_branc.php. This may explain the existence of a massive AQIS training facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda’s Kandahar training camp ‘probably the largest’ in Afghan War,” Long War Journal, October 31, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/al-qaedas-kandahar-training-camp-probably-the-largest-in-afghan-war.php. U.S. and Afghan troops raided and demolished the 30-square mile camp in early October 2015.Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “US military strikes large al Qaeda training camps in southern Afghanistan,” Long War Journal, October 13, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/us-military-strikes-large-al-qaeda-training-camps-in-southern-afghanistan.php.

In August 2016, AQIS released footage of another training camp in South Waziristan in Pakistan. Militants trained with AK-47s, machine guns, and RPGs at the Qari Imran Camp, named after the founder of AQIS.Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda highlights ‘Qari Imran Camp’ in South Waziristan,” Long War Journal, August 11, 2016, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/08/al-qaeda-highlights-qari-imran-camp-in-south-waziristan.php. New al-Qaeda recruits progress from basic physical training to weapons training, training in armed assault, and bomb making.Joshua E. Keating, “What Do You Learn at Terrorist Training Camp?” Foreign Policy, May 10, 2010, http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/05/10/what-do-you-learn-at-terrorist-training-camp/. Harakat-ul-Mujahiddeen, a Pakistani Islamist terrorist organization long linked to al-Qaeda and now to AQIS, reportedly operates training camps in Afghanistan.Bill Roggio, “Harakat-ul-Mujahideen ‘operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan,’” Long War Journal, August 8, 2014, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/08/harakat-ul-mujahidee.php. AQIS emir Asim Umar reportedly trained at one of the camps, which also served to train Kashmiri jihadists.Praveen Swami, “More Qaeda-Pak links: AQIS chief was at ‘ISI’ PoK camp,” Indian Express (New Delhi), March 13, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/more-qaeda-pak-links-aqis-chief-was-at-isi-pok-camp/.

Key Leaders

  • Asim Omar

    Asim Umar

    AQIS emir (leader)
  • Usama Mahmoud

    Spokesman
  • Atta ur Rahman a.k.a. Naeem Bukhari

    High-ranking member, bridge between AQIS and al-Qaeda central
  • Mawlana Mainul Islam

    Top coordinator in Bangladesh
  • Mufti Abdullah Ashraf

    Spokesman of Ansar al Islam, AQIS’s Bangladesh chapter
  • Shahid Usman

    Head of al-Qaeda’s Karachi wing- incarcerated in Pakistan
  • Oweis Jakhrani

    Mastermind of the ship missile plot
  • Zeeshan Rafeeq

    Mastermind of the ship missile plot
  • Ustad Ahmad Farooq a.k.a. Raja Suleman

    Deputy emir (deceased)
  • Qari ‘Imran a.k.a. Ubaidullah

    Shura council member and chief of operations in Afghanistan (deceased)
  • Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah

    Shura council member (deceased)

History

 

Violent Activities

Since its founding, AQIS has focused primarily on executing lone-wolf style attacks, targeting secular and atheist activists and intellectuals based in Bangladesh. In 2016, groups and individuals affiliated with AQIS began calling for lone-wolf attacks on U.S. interests, issuing a target list of specific U.S. politicians and calling for attacks on U.S. universities involved in designing drones.“Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent,” State of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, January 17, 2017, https://www.njhomelandsecurity.gov/analysis/al-qaida-in-the-indian-subcontinent. In June 2017, AQIS also called for attacks against U.S. interests and personnel based in Afghanistan.“AQIS Publishes its “Code of Conduct,” Declares U.S. Citizens and Interests in Pakistan its “‘Foremost Priority,’” Site Intelligence Group, June 25, 2017, https://news.siteintelgroup.com/Jihadist-News/aqis-publishes-its-code-of-conduct-declares-u-s-citizens-and-interests-in-pakistan-its-foremost-priority.html.

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

June 30, 2016: The U.S. Department of State designated AQIS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224.“State Department Terrorist Designations,” U.S. Department of State, June 30, 2016, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/06/259219.htm.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

November 28, 2016: Australia designated AQUIS as a terrorist organization.“Listed Terrorist Organizations,” Australian National Security, accessed November 4, 2017, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/default.aspx.

Associations

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Taliban

AQIS’s emir, Asim Umar, had reported directly to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar before the latter’s death. As a former commander in the Pakistani Taliban, Umar’s appointment as emir of AQIS reveals the ties between the Taliban and the new al-Qaeda affiliate. In its “Code of Conduct” published in June 2017, AQIS reiterated its allegiance to the emir of the Taliban and declared that its members fight “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the Taliban––and sometimes under its banner––in the Afghan insurgency. It also revealed that AQIS is so closely integrated with the Taliban that some AQIS members are part of the Taliban’s chain-of-command.Thomas Joscelyn, “AQIS emphasizes allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, Taliban in new ‘code of conduct,’” Long War Journal, June 26, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/06/aqis-emphasizes-allegiance-to-ayman-al-zawahiri-taliban-in-new-code-of-conduct.php.

Al-Qaeda Central and the Taliban have close ties. Al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri has repeatedly renewed his oath, or pledge of allegiance, to the leader of the Taliban, formerly Omar.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Renews Its Oath of Allegiance to Taliban Leader Mullah Omar,” Long War Journal, July 21, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/al_qaeda_renews_its.php. Since May 2015, the Taliban has been led by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Name New Leader After Confirming Predecessor Died in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, May 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-new-leader.html.

Ansarullah Bangla Team

The Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), commonly known as the Ansar Bangla, is an Islamist group based in Bangladesh. It was formed in 2007 and banned by the Bangladeshi government on May 25, 2015.“Ansarullah Bangla Team Banned,” Dhaka Tribune, May 25, 2015, http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2015/may/25/ansarullah-bangla-team-banned. Nonetheless, it is believed to continue working closely with AQIS, and has been blamed for numerous murders of secular bloggers for which AQIS has taken responsibility.Reuters, “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent ‘Claims’ Murder of US Citizen in Bangladesh,” Telegraph (London), May 3, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/bangladesh/11580758/Al-Qaeda-in-the-Indian-Subcontinent-claims-murder-of-US-citizen-in-Bangladesh.html.

Since its ban in 2015, a number of ABT members have been arrested on murder-related charges. ABT cleric Jashimuddin Rahmani was one of seven defendants found guilty in December 2015 of the murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. Accused ABT members have also been arrested for links to the murder of liberal blogger Niloy Neel. At least one ABT member was reportedly arrested on undisclosed charges after carrying out pro-ISIS recruitment in the country.Euan McKirdy and Sugam Pokharel, “Bangladesh court hands down death sentences for blogger killing,” CNN, January 1, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/31/asia/bangladesh-death-sentences-blogger-murder/; Jason Burke, “Militant group publishes global hitlist of bloggers, activists and writers,” Guardian (London), September 23, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/23/militant-group-publishes-hit-list-of-bloggers-activists-and-writers; Syed Zain al-Mahmood, “Bangladesh Grapples With Islamist Militancy,” Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/bangladesh-islamists-gain-ground-1443981583; Iftekharul Bashar, “Islamist militancy on the rise in Bangladesh,” East Asia Forum, August 8, 2015, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/08/08/islamist-militancy-on-the-rise-in-bangladesh/.

Harakat-ul-Mujahideen

Harakat-ul-Mujahiddeen, a Pakistani Islamist terrorist organization long linked to al-Qaeda and now to AQIS, reportedly operates training camps in Afghanistan.Bill Roggio, “Harakat-ul-Mujahideen ‘Operates Terrorist Training Camps in Eastern Afghanistan,’” Long War Journal, August 8, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/08/harakat-ul-mujahidee.php. AQIS emir Asim Umar reportedly trained at one of the group's camps, which also trains Kashmiri jihadists.Praveen Swami, “More Qaeda-Pak Links: AQIS Chief Was at ‘ISI’ PoK Camp,” Indian Express (New Delhi), March 13, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/more-qaeda-pak-links-aqis-chief-was-at-isi-pok-camp/.

Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind

Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind is a Pakistani jihadist group founded in July 2017 after its leader, Zakir Musa, broke away from Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen. Although Musa has not sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda’s leader, the Long War Journal reports that there are “multiple indications” that his group is affiliated with or even loyal to al-Qaeda, and that its rhetoric is “entirely consistent” with that of AQIS. Furthermore, Taliban commander Haji Mansoor Mehsood praised the establishment of Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind and credited the “hard work” of AQIS for making it possible.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-linked jihadist in Kashmir criticizes Pakistani army,” Long War Journal, September 2, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/09/al-qaeda-linked-jihadist-in-kashmir-criticizes-pakistani-army.php.

Rhetoric

View All

Group Message, July 12, 2016

“What stops you from using a dagger or knife to slit the throats of forces of Kufr? Remember, that the glory you seek demands nothing less than blood and nothing more than initiative and unwavering belief in the path of Allah – Jihad Fi’sabillilah.”Sagnik Chowdhury, “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent asks Kashmiri muslims to follow Burhan Wani’s footsteps,” Indian Express, July 14, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/al-qaeda-in-the-indian-subcontinent-asks-kashmiri-muslims-to-follow-burhan-wanis-footsteps-2912376/; “A Message to THE MUJAHID NATION OF KASHMIR,” JustPaste.it, July 12, 2016, https://justpaste.it/khorasan2kashmir.

Group Message July 12, 2016

“Attack the forts of the enemies. Petrol bombs are one of the best ways to soften up the enemies and then attack them with knives and iron rods. Use wet face covers to lessen the impact of tear gas.”

Group Message, July 12, 2016

“Attack the forts of the enemies. Petrol bombs are one of the best ways to soften up the enemies and then attack them with knives and iron rods. Use wet face covers to lessen the impact of tear gas.”Sagnik Chowdhury, “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent asks Kashmiri muslims to follow Burhan Wani’s footsteps,” Indian Express, July 14, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/al-qaeda-in-the-indian-subcontinent-asks-kashmiri-muslims-to-follow-burhan-wanis-footsteps-2912376/; “A Message to THE MUJAHID NATION OF KASHMIR,” JustPaste.it, July 12, 2016, https://justpaste.it/khorasan2kashmir.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda emir, September 3, 2014

In a video release announcing the formation of AQIS:
“It is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam Sheikh Usama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him, to call the Ummah to unite round the word of Tawhid [monotheism], to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate.”Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda Opens Branch in the ‘Indian Subcontinent,’” Long War Journal, September 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_opens_branc.php.

Asim Omar, AQIS video, May 3, 2015

Claiming responsibility for the murder of numerous secular bloggers and professors:
These assassinations are part of a series of operations initiated by the different branches of al-Qaida on the directions of our respected leader Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri and it is 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.

Asim Omar, AQIS video, May 3, 2015

“Where are those who would kill these blasphemers, wherever they may be found, even if it has to be done using a dagger or a knife, and by doing so record their names on the Day of Judgment among the devotees of the prophet?”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.

Asim Omar, AQIS video, May 3, 2015

In reference to the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in early 2015 and the murder of secular bloggers in Bangladesh and Pakistan:
“[Blasphemers have been] taught a lesson in France, Denmark, Pakistan and now in Bangladesh.”Jason Burke, “South Asia al-Qaida group video claims responsibility for blogger murders,” Guardian (London), May 3, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/03/south-asia-al-qaida-group-video-claims-responsibility-for-blogger-murders.

Asim Omar, October 2014

In al-Qaeda’s Resurgance magazine:
“We have little doubt that, sooner or later, the Muslims of India too will come to the realization that their future is inextricably linked to the success of the Afghan Jihad [Taliban and al-Qaeda].”Thomas Joscelyn, “Analysis: Al Qaeda’s ‘Resurgence’ focuses on Indian Subcontinent,” Long War Journal, October 23, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/10/al_qaedas_resurgence-2.php.

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