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Al Qaeda’s call to unleash suicide bombers in India over Prophet Muhammad row is a wake-up call for all friendly Gulf countries

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A threat by Ayman Al Zawahiri, (Image Courtesy: Twitter/@tmafaisal)

The threat by Ayman Al Zawahiri, of attacking Delhi, Mumbai Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, with suicide bombers to “avenge” unwarranted comments made by former BJP office bearers on television, is a wake-up call for all friendly Muslim countries embroiled in the controversy.

By not quickly defusing the emotive controversy, even after the Ministry of External Affairs slammed  the  ill-considered comments by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, and the decision by the BJP to sack its two office bearers, some of the pro-India Gulf countries may have inadvertently given a handle to international terrorist groups, which were apparently going bust.  

Al Zawahiri has commandeered the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) to carry out the suicide bombings.

Though the AQIS was formed in 2014 after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Al Zawahiri  “started the reorganization of al-Qaeda, with its main focus on South Asia,” according to a Reuters report. But so far it has not recorded a major success. In India. “Al-Qaeda first mentioned India as a target in 1996, when bin Laden made a reference to both Jammu and Kashmir and Assam,” Ajai Sahni of India’s Institute for Conflict Management has been quoted as saying. “Since then, it has not been able to achieve anything significant in both these Indian states.”

But,  the AQIS has managed to strike with significant impact in Bangladesh. For instance, in May 2015, the group claimed responsibility for the slaying of two bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman.  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, according to a report titled Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). The following year, the Ansar al Islam claimed responsibility for the killing of secular campaigner Nazimuddin Samad, and, Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar, editors of an LGBT magazine.

Nevertheless, the AQIS eventually suffered significant blows. In September 2019, the United States launched a joint operation with the Afghan military, at Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. A month later Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security confirmed that not only was AQIS leader, Asim Umar killed, but six other terrorists also died during the operation. The NDS claimed that Usama Mahmood, AQIS’s spokesman, became the new leader of the outfit.

Like al-Qaeda Central, AQIS ascribes to a Salafi ideology whose central tenet is waging jihad in order to wrest power from what Zawahiri calls the “infidel enemy” and impose rule by sharia (Islamic law).

Al-Qaeda and AQIS members believe in a ceaseless apocalyptic war with India, resulting in the fall of the “Hindu” nation to Islam, yielding the  recreation of the caliphate.

In a letter AQIS issued on  June 6 that has Zawahiri’s endorsement, the group  said it would launch suicide attacks in Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat to “fight for the honour of the Prophet”.

“A few days ago, the propagators and flag bearers of Hindutva – a system and philosophy hostile to the religion and Shariah of Allah – insulted and slandered the purest of beings, the most honourable after God himself, Muhammad al Mustafa, Ahmad al Mujtaba, and his noble and pure wife, the mother of the believers, Sayyidah Ayesha bint Abu Bakr as Siddeeq in the most vile and evil manner on an Indian TV channel.

“In response to this affront, the hearts of Muslim all over the world are bleeding and are filled with feelings of revenge and retribution,” the letter states.

The Gulf countries are no strangers to Al Qaeda attacks, especially Saudi Arabia, which has been battling the group since the turn of the century. The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also known as Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen  has been primarily active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia as part of the broader Al-Qaeda network.  

(Caption—Anwar Al Awlaki, leader of AQAP who has killed in a US drone strike)

Although terrorist attacks are rare, the UAE has been listed as a place used by investors to raise funds to support militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the financing of the September 11 attacks.  The UAE Federal Law No. 7 in November 2014, designated a list of 83 organizations and entities including the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah, Houthis, and the Islamic State as terrorist organizations.

With India and the Gulf enjoying specialties, in the arena of trade, energy, and people-to-people interaction, it is in the shared interest of the region’s heavyweights and India to quickly defuse the crisis to deny international terrorism a second wind.

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