With subsidiaries like Base Movement in Kerala, why AQIS is the most resilient terror group
New Delhi, Aug 11: A recent report by the United Nations said that there are a huge number of terrorists hiding in Karnataka and Kerala.
The report also noted that the Al-Qaeda has between 150 and 200 terrorists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Indian sub-continent. It also said that the group is planning on carrying out attacks in the region.
The Al-Qaeda in the Indian sub-continent operates under the Taliban umbrella from Nimruz, Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan. The AQIS is headed by Osama Mahmood, who succeeded the late Asim Umar.
The Al-Qaeda achieved a great deal of success post the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
The terror group then formed multiple subsidiaries across the globe and its expansion was far and wide. However over the years, the group has suffered a number of setbacks at the hands of the US led international coalition. Despite the death of its leader, Osama Bin Laden, the group has managed to survive due to the increasing members and sympathisers, through its regional branches in the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, says Animesh Roul, Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict.
The AQIS is the youngest subsidiary of the Al-Qaeda. Roul, who specialises in counterterrorism, radical Islam, religious eschatology and issues related to armed conflict and insurgencies in South Asia also says that the AQIS is proving to be one of the most resilient regional affiliates of the Al-Qaeda.
Roul has dealt with the AQIS in depth and in this context let us examine his latest project, "Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent- Spearheading Jihad in. South Asia 2014-2020.
While acknowledging the Government of Netherlands and the Global Centre on Cooperative Security for their support for the project, Roul says that the AQIS has been proactive and influential in its virtual campaign in many countries in South Asia, primarily where there is a significant presence of Muslim populations, such as in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Some of the key areas that this project deals with are the emergence and growth of the AQIS over almost six years starting September 2014 through June 2020.
The project also examines how the AQIS strives to influence the jihadist movement in the region to achieve its core objectives. There is a particular focus on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for a broader understanding of how and to what degree AQIS exercises command and control over its expanded structure.
Read the full report here
While speaking about the AQIS in the Indian context, one would need to look closely at the Base Movement that operates in South India and the Ansar Ghazwat-ul Hind, Kashmir.
The Base Movement is active in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Roul deals extensively with the Base Movement in the project. The Base Movement shot to prominence following a series of low intensity bomb blasts in 2016.
Intelligence Bureau officials who OneIndia spoke with say that the Base Movement comprises a set of Muslim youth who subscribe to the ideology of the Al-Qaeda. They trigger that led to the formation of this group was the denial of bail to Abdul Nasir Madani. Their primary intention was to target the police, judiciary and media. In this regard they sent out a series of letters with a stern warning.
Roul says that the letters indicated BM's threats to be a "retaliation for injustices meted out to the Muslim community in India." The BM threatened to avenge the hanging of Yakub Memon, the man convicted for 1993 Mumbai bombings, and the June 2004 killing of Lashkar-e-Tayiba's Ishrat Jahan in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The letters were signed "Base Movement - Kovai," providing an early lead to investigators - Kovai is the local name of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
Roul rightly points out that Kashmir remains the Centre point of most of Al-Qaeda's propaganda video and press releases even though with a limited presence on the ground. While the Al-Qaeda never intended to enter the Kashmir theatre, it issued statements highlighting the death of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani.
Following the release of the "Code of Conduct "document in June 2017, the AQIS formally established and endorsed a new jihadist group, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH, Supporters of Holy War in India), in Kashmir under the Hizbul Mujahideen renegade militant, Zakir Rashid Bhat (Musa), along with a media wing named Al-Hurr, Roul further says.
The IB officer cited above say that the primary operational bases for the AQIS in India are at Kerala and Kashmir. The group's ideology has a great amount of traction among the Muslim youth. This group has not carried out big attacks like was done by the Indian Mujahideen or the SIMI. However, it has a great amount of influence and going by its functioning, the primary agenda at least for now seems to be influence and radicalise the youth. The ideological factor of this group is what is worrisome, the officer also notes.
Roul, however adds that the AQIS like its parent group nourishes intention to attack the US and Western countries. It intermittently issues threats to countries beyond its operational purview and capability to launch an attack, for example threatening the United States or the Netherlands. In March 2016, it encouraged attacks on US Naval bases that protect oil companies, terminals and pipelines and launched attacks against Muslim nations in Asia.
The December 2019 issue of Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad magazine eulogised Pensacola, Florida shooter (the Saudi Royal Air Force officer) and incited attacks against U.S. soldiers. The editorial in that issue of the Urdu-language magazine hailed the Saudi officer Muhammad al- Shamrani as a "jihadist hero" and called on military officers in Muslim countries to follow suit by targeting the U.S. soldiers.
Muhammad al-Shamrani, the Saudi gunman, who was under training at the base, killed three sailors and wounded eight others before he was shot dead. Neither al- Qaeda nor I.S. claimed responsibility for the Florida shooting. Again, the AQIS editorial in the magazine also paid tribute Omar Dabaa Ilyas, the Muslim man who saved a copy of the Koran from being burned during a recent protest in Norway in November 2019. It said Ilyas had made Muslims proud by attacking an "infidel" who was burning a copy of the Koran.
Despite these ambitious threat messages, the AQIS has never carried out any attacks or inspired similar strikes in locations outside South Asia. However, it continues to incite Muslims in Western countries to carry out lone-wolf attacks.
"Since AQIS follows Al Qaeda's 'long war' model, it focuses on grassroots mobilisation infiltrating through Madrasas networks in South Asia, especially in India and Bangladesh. Despite the recent loss of its leadership, AQIS would most likely regain and resurge in the region due to the intact grassroots network."