Zawahiri appointed Asim Umar, who hailed from Uttar Pradesh in India, as the head of the AQIS

A still file image from a video released by Al-Qaeda’s media arm as-Sahab and obtained on June 8, 2011 courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group shows Ayman al-Zawahiri as he gives a eulogy for slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a video released on jihadist forums.

The audio and video recordings that Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri sent out to spread his messages of terror around the world often had references to India—be it Kashmir, or the controversy over the ban on wearing hijab in Karnataka’s educational institutions.

Zawahiri, who has now been eliminated by the United States, built the Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)—an affiliate of the global terrorist organisation, which he had been leading since the death of his predecessor, Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

Launching the AQIS in September 2014, Zawahiri asked the Muslims of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to join the “caravan of jihad” and establish the caliphate in the subcontinent. He had said that the creation of Al-Qaeda’s new affiliate for the sub-continent was intended to send out the message that the terror organisation had not forgotten the Muslim brothers of India. He had also said that the AQIS would unite the Muslims, and erase the boundaries of British India.

Zawahiri appointed Asim Umar, who hailed from Uttar Pradesh in India, as the head of the AQIS. Umar was killed by security forces in Afghanistan in September 2019.

In July 2019, Zawahiri released a video message asking the ‘jihadists’ based in Kashmir to continue to target the Indian Army. He often equated Palestine with Kashmir, and stated that Kashmir was a bleeding wound in the heart of every jihadist. The Al-Qaeda led by him also slammed the Government of India for its August 5, 2019, move to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, and reorganize the state into two separate entities. He, himself, in a video released in May this year, termed the move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as a slap on the face of Muslims.

Although, the AQIS could not carry out any major terror strike in India, security agencies found that the organisation had been playing a key role in radicalising the youth in India. It was also involved with several terrorist attacks in Pakistan, and killing of secular and progressive bloggers and activists in Bangladesh.

A few months ago, in the wake of some comments made by two leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party about Prophet Muhammad, AQIS threatened to carry out suicide attacks in India.

In April this year, the Al-Qaeda chief released a message praising a young woman, who was seen in videos, just weeks before, defiantly defending her right to wear hijab, despite being heckled in an educational institute in Mandya, Karnataka. “We must stop being deceived by the mirage of Hindu democracy of India, which, to begin with, was never more than a tool to oppress Islam,” he had said in the message.