An overview of statements by senior al Qaeda leaders as well as the group’s joint operations shows that al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the newest regional branch of the global jihadist group, was formed by incorporating elements of established jihadist groups that have operated in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India for years.
The formation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was announced by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in a video released yesterday. In that statement, Zawahiri noted that AQIS “is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity to be with the main group, Qaedat al-Jihad, from the soldiers of the Islamic Emirate and its triumphant emir, Allah permitting, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
The new regional al Qaeda affiliate likely includes elements from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Harakat-ul-Muhajideen, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Brigade 313, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Indian Mujahideen (a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Junood al Fida, and other groups based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
All of these groups have had a close operational relationship in the past. For instance, top leaders in the the Turkistan Islamic Party have commanded al Qaeda’s network. And Junood al Fida, a Baloch jihadist group that operates in southern Afghanistan, recently swore allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and referred to Ayman al Zawahiri as its “emir.”
The appointment of Asim Umar, a former commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, as the emir of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent demonstrates the regional flavor and the influence that Pakistani jihadist exert in the new al Qaeda branch.
Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s spokesman, Usama Mahmoud, openly stated that the group “was formed by the gathering of several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting … so they united and came together and applied the directives of their beloved emir, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him, on the ground. Thus, they came together and joined their ranks and formed one entity under the leadership of Sheikh ‘Asim Umar,” according to a translation of Mahmoud’s statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In his speech, in which he also said that “waging jihad against America” is the primary goal, Mahmoud praised the “the martyred leaders under whose blessed care the tree of jihad was raised in this region.” Among those named are “Ustadh Amjad Farouqi, Sheikh Ilyas Kashmiri, Ustadh ‘Adnan, commander Abdul Hadi Faysal, Sheikh Ahsan Aziz, and Dr. Arshad Wahid” as well as “Ustadh Hassan Ghul, commander Badr Mansour, and Ustadh Faydh Umar Aqdas.” Six of the nine leaders named by Mahmoud have served as senior leaders of various Pakistani jihadist groups (brief bios of each commander, except for Ustadh ‘Adnan, Abdul Hadi Faysal, and Ustadh Faydh Umar Aqdas, whose backgrounds are not yet known, are listed below; all three are thought to be Pakistanis who were al Qaeda leaders).
Kashmiri, Mansoor, Ghul, Wahid, and Aziz were targeted and killed in US drone strikes over the past decade. The US killed the commanders because of their close operational ties to al Qaeda. All five jihadist leaders listed above maintained close links with Pakistani jihadist groups while also serving as senior al Qaeda commanders. Farouqi was killed by Pakistani security forces in 2004.
The creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent essentially formalized the extremely close operational relationship that has existed between al Qaeda and the various jihadist groups in the region.
Jihadist leaders lauded as martyrs by al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s spokesman
Kashmiri served as the operational leader of Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, a Pakistani jihadist group, and Brigade 313, a HUJI unit. Brigade 313’s members are recruited from the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jundallah (the Karachi-based, al Qaeda-linked group), and several other Pakistani terror groups. He was considered one of the most dangerous and effective al Qaeda formations in Pakistan before he was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in June 2011. Before his death, Kashmiri served as al Qaeda’s overall military commander; Badr Mansoor (see below) was one of his deputies.
Mansoor served as one of al Qaeda’s “company” commanders, according to one of the documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan.] Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, with which he was closely linked. At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. He was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012.
Mansoor was known to have a large cadre of fighters at his disposal. According to Central Asia Online, Mansoor’s company had “more than 2,200 members with 350 hardcore fighters and more than 150 suicide bombers.” Mansoor’s group is believed to have participated in terror attacks in Pakistan’s major cities, including Lahore, Karachi, and Quetta, indicating that its network is not confined to Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Ghul was a top al Qaeda leader who was in US custody for two years before being transferred to Pakistani custody and then promptly released. He was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan in October 2012. Ghul served as Osama bin Laden’s emissary to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and while in US custody, disclosed key information that led to the killing of bin Laden. He is thought to have served as al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan at the time of his death.
Ustadh Amjad Farooqi:
Amjad Hussain Farooqi was a jihadist allied with al Qaeda who was behind two assassination attempts against Musharraf in 2003 and suspected of being involved in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was killed by Pakistani security forces on Sept. 26, 2004.
Farooqi had a long pedigree in jihadi circles. He served in the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan in Kabul and led an assault to take over Herat in 1992. Farooqi then joined the Harkat-ul-Ansar (which later became the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen) and joined the jihad against India in Kashmir.
Farooqi served as a close aide to Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. He also served as the group’s representative to al Qaeda’s International Islamic Front. He is thought to have been involved in the Indian airliner hijacking that led to the release of both Maulana Masood Azhar, the future leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Sheikh Omar Saeed, a senior al Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed operative involved in the death of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan, Farooqi led thousands of Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami fighters to battle US forces. After returning from Afghanistan, Farooqi is said to have become closely allied with Abu Faraj al Libi, the former operations chief for al Qaeda. Al Libi is said to have convinced Farooqi to conduct the assassination attempts against Musharraf.
Dr. Arshad Wahid:
Dr. Arshad Waheed, also known as Sheikh Moaz, was a mid-level al Qaeda leader responsible for training members of al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army in military tactics as well as training fighters in first aid and medical techniques. He was killed in a missile strike in South Waziristan on March 16, 2008. His death was announced on a 40-minute video produced by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm. In the video, Waheed was eulogized by Abu Mustafa Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, and an al Qaeda operative known as Abu Omar Mahmood. He was closely tied to Jundallah, a Pakistani jihadist group.
Sheikh Ahsan Aziz:
Sheikh Ahsan Aziz, also known as Engineer Ahsan Aziz, was a Kashmiri jihadist linked to Hizbul Mujahideen. He was killed in a US drone strike in August 2012. At the time of his death, he served as an al Qaeda commander. Engineer Ahsan “was part of the deep bench of Pakistani jihadists who have stepped in to fill mid and senior level leadership positions in al Qaeda” as the terror group’s legacy leaders have been killed in drone strikes, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal after the death of Aziz was confirmed.