Footage cites Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq as ‘inspiration’ for Muslims in disputed Himalayan region to take up arms
Senior militants from al-Qaida’s central command have released a video calling on Muslims in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir to follow the example of “brothers” in Syria and Iraq and wage a violent jihad against Indian authorities.
The video, which cites the “new Afghanistan being created in Syria” as inspiration, is the first to specifically target Kashmir.
Entitled “War should continue, message to the Muslims of Kashmir”, the video was uploaded in recent days to a website where statements by other leaders of al-Qaida and its affiliates have been released in the past.
It is unclear when the video was made, although its production apparently preceded the advances made by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) in Iraq this week. However, the timing of its release will underline the impression that senior al-Qaida leaders based in Pakistan, who have suffered heavy losses in recent years, are increasingly marginal to the global jihadi movement.
Led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born veteran militant who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the group has made increasing efforts in recent years to mobilise the nearly half a billion Muslims who live in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Zawahiri released a set of strategic guidelines last year that mentioned Kashmir. Last July, a cleric who has been linked to al-Qaida issued a video statement that reprimanded Indian Muslims for their supposed lack of interest in “global jihad”.
The campaign does not appear to have had much success beyond Pakistan, where the serious threat posed by jihadi violence was underlined by a major attack on the international airport in Karachi, the southern port city and commercial capital, last week.
Though there are some signs of increasing radicalisation in India, recruitment to extremist networks there is negligible.
Indian newspapers have reported a case of two Chennai college students whom intelligence services believe to be training with jihadist groups in Syria, while a handful of volunteers from the Maldive Islands have been reported to have gone to Syria to fight.
The video appears to have been produced by As Sahab, al-Qaida’s in-house media production unit, and includes a statement read by Maulana Asim Umar, a leader of al-Qaida’s Pakistan cell. It begins with a montage of pictures of violent demonstrations in Kashmir in 2010, in which scores of civilian protesters were killed by Indian security forces, and shows pictures of the famous Dal Lake.
Muslim-majority Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu king before being split between Pakistan and India immediately after the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947. That division remains a source of resentment locally and regionally, even though an insurgency pitting Islamists and separatists against Indian security forces that started in the late 1980s has waned in recent years.
In the video Kashmiri Muslims are urged to join the global jihadi movement.
“Now Muslims all over the world have picked up arms … are marching in the field of jihad. Even those who rejected armed jihad are now joining this path after being disillusioned with democratic ways of peaceful protests,” it says.
The video mentions Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Algeria and other theatres of recent Islamic extremism as inspirations to aspirant militants. It also refers to “attacks” in Europe, such as the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in London last year.
Specific messages are addressed to Kashmiri Muslims living on both sides of the de facto border between Pakistan and India, as well as to the broader Muslim populations of both countries.
Many within the Indian security establishment are concerned that the US and Nato withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan may lead to extremists fighting there transferring to a new “front” in Kashmir. The video promises a “caravan” of “heroic martyrs” coming from Afghanistan to “liberate Kashmir”.
Western security officials have previously expressed concern that the recent election victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party may lead to intensified militant activity in the region.
Allegations that the prime minister, Narendra Modi, allowed, or even encouraged violence in which 1,000 predominantly Muslim people died in Gujarat in 2002 have made him a target for Islamic extremists.
A video issued by a little-known group called the Ansar-ut-Tawheed fi Bilaad Hind (Brotherhood for Monotheism in the land of Hind) immediately after Modi’s win referred repeatedly to the events in 2002. Officials believe the group is comprised of a small number of Indian nationals based in the restive semi-autonomous border zone of western Pakistan who may have connections with al-Qaida’s senior leadership and local Pakistani militants.
India has suffered repeatedly from domestic and international terrorist attacks. The most devastating was in 2008 when militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based organisation with links to the country’s security establishment, made a bloody assault on Mumbai.