India: Qaeda sees fertile ground for sectarian war

In a new video release, al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahri announced a new wing of the militant network to "raise the flag of jihad" across the "Indian subcontinent." Zawahri pledged that "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" (AQIS) will "break all borders created by Britain in India," and called on "our brothers" to "unite under the credo of the one god…in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir." The statement made two references to Gujarat, the home state of India's new Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gujarat was the scene of communal riots on his watch as chief minister of the state in 2002. More than 1,000 people, overwhelmingly Muslims, died in the wave of attacks. In the 55-minute video, delivered in a mixture of Arabic and Urdu, Zawahiri also pledged renewed loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. India has thus far had no recorded al-Qaeda presence, although it has suffered numerous attacks from groups including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Indian Mujahedeen. (Long War Journal, Sept. 5; Today's Zaman, Turkey, BBC News, Indian Express, Sept. 4)

Assam state, also mentioned in Zawahri's statement, has seen a more recent wave of sectarian attacks. Dozens of Bengali-speaking Muslims were killed in Assam in attacks by the local tribal militants in May. The attacks on Muslim villagers, mostly women and children, were blamed on the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Ethnic clashes in Assam in 2012 killed 80 people, mostly Muslims, and displaced more than 400,000. (World Bulletin, Turkey, May 7)

Recent years have seen growing attacks on Muslims in Burma and sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Bangladesh.