The leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Asim Umar, has claimed responsibility for the murders of six people who were supposedly “blasphemers,” including Avijit Roy, a prominent atheist blogger. Roy, an American, was murdered in Bangladesh in February when his attackers assaulted him with machetes.
Umar’s statement came in a video that was produced by al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab. The SITE Intelligence Group first obtained the video, which was released in several languages and includes English subtitles.
In addition to Roy, AQIS claims that its jihadists were responsible for killing Rajib Haider (a blogger murdered in February 2013), Muhammad Shakil Auj (who was the dean of Islamic Studies at the University of Karachi when he was shot in September 2014), Shafiul Islam (a professor at Rajshahi University who was killed in September 2014), Aniqa Naz (a Pakistani blogger), and Washiqur Rahman (a blogger who was killed in March).
Several of the slayings were committed in a barbaric manner similar to the murder of Avijit Roy, with the victims being hacked to death with machetes or knives.
“Praise be to Allah, these assassinations are part of a series of operations initiated by the different branches of al Qaeda on the orders of our respected leader Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri (may Allah protect him),” Umar says. “It is equally part of our commitment to fulfill the oath of Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] (may Allah have mercy on him).”
Umar connects the series of murders to other terrorist attacks, including the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris earlier this year. The jihadists “have taught a lesson to blasphemers in France, Denmark, Pakistan and now in Bangladesh,” Umar claims. And he says al Qaeda’s assassination campaign is part of the “same war…whether it is fought with drones [in northern Pakistan] or with the cursed pens of Charlie Hebdo.”
Umar says a “Bangladeshi brother” named Sulaiman (a.k.a. Aashiq ur Rahman) “was martyred in a drone strike in Khurasan by the same powers that expressed solidarity with the blasphemers by participating in the long march in Paris.”
Portraying its terror as a defense of Islam
Al Qaeda has been attempting to portray its terrorism as a defense of Islam against those who have allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official who also serves as one of al Qaeda’s deputy managers, claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo assault on behalf of al Qaeda earlier this year. Umar’s explanation mirrors the one offered by al Ansi at the time.
Indeed, the AQIS video includes clips of al Ansi saying that the Charlie Hebdo shootings were planned and carried out by AQAP. (A screen shot is included on the right.)
In his own video, which was released in January, al Ansi claimed that the attack in Paris was “vengeance for the Messenger of Allah.” He also said it was planned in “compliance” with the “command” of Allah to support his messenger, as well as the “order of our general emir, the generous Sheikh Ayman bin Muhammad al Zawahiri,” and the “will” of Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
Therefore, both al Ansi and Umar have said that their organizations’ terrorist attacks against “blasphemers” were carried out according to Zawahiri’s “order.”
Al Qaeda has long sought to gain popularity in parts of the Muslim-majority world by targeting individuals and organizations deemed offensive by like-minded believers. In addition to al Ansi, the AQIS video features a clip of Anwar al Awlaki, an American al Qaeda ideologue who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011. Awlaki repeatedly called for vengeance against those who had supposedly offended Islam. The brothers responsible for the Mumbai-style assault on Charlie Hebdo said they were sent by Awlaki, and al Ansi explained that Awlaki had been involved in their operation.
In a prior plot, senior al Qaeda leaders planned to kill staff members working at Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
And in September 2012, several al Qaeda-linked organizations helped incite attacks and riots against US diplomatic facilities around the world, including in Benghazi, Cairo, Sanaa and Tunis. In the tenth edition of its Inspire magazine, AQAP said the assaults fulfilled Osama bin Laden’s call to avenge the Islamic faith, which had been allegedly offended by the West. The cover the magazine showed a black al Qaeda-style banner being hoisted in front of the US Embassy in Tunis after the stars and stripes had been torn down. The image was accompanied by the words, “We Are All Usama,” a reference to the chants (“Obama, Obama, We are all Osama!”) that were heard in front of multiple US embassies.
AQIS has previously claimed credit for some of the killings mentioned in Umar’s statement. A few of the murders were committed prior to the official establishment of AQIS, which brings together elements of several different jihadist groups, in September 2014.
In December of last year, AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmoud released a statement explaining the al Qaeda branch’s operations. “Although al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was announced this year ,” Mahmoud claimed, according to a translation by SITE, “we started operating under one Shura [consultative] committee and one commander almost a year ago.”
Mahmoud wrote that the AQIS Shura committee had agreed to target “American interests,” the Pakistani Army, the Pakistani Police, “anti-Islam thugs involved in killing Islamic scholars and extorting Muslim merchants,” and “prominent apostates known for their animosity towards Islam.” AQIS has plotted against each of the targets listed by Mahmoud.
In its most audacious plot to date, AQIS attempted to use the missiles on board a Pakistani frigate to attack American and Indian ships. The AQIS team that tried to commandeer the frigate was comprised of former and active Pakistani officers. They failed to launch the missiles, but reportedly killed Pakistani servicemen in the resulting shootout.