Al Qaeda says it has group in In­dia’s Kash­mir

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

SRI­NA­GAR, In­dia — Al Qaeda said for the first time it is ac­tive in the In­di­an­con­trolled por­tion of Kash­mir, an­nounc­ing on a linked pro­pa­ganda net­work that a mil­i­tant from an indige­nous rebel group would lead a new out­fit of fight­ers op­pos­ing In­dian rule in the dis­puted re­gion.

The an­nounce­ment was made Thurs­day by the Global Is­lamic Me­dia Front, which said Kash­miri mil­i­tant Zakir Musa will head al Qaeda-linked An­sar Ghawzat-ul-Hind. He re­cently left Kash­mir’s largest indige­nous rebel group, Hizbul Mu­jahideen, and is be­lieved to have been joined by less than a dozen oth­ers.

Pre­vi­ously, no global ji­hadi groups have openly op­er­ated in Kash­mir, a ter­ri­tory di­vided be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan but claimed by both en­tirely.

The pro­pa­ganda net­work said the new group will “re­pel the ag­gres­sion of tyrant In­dian in­vaders, and through ji­had, and with the aid of Al­lah . . . we will lib­er­ate our home­land Kash­mir.”

In 2014, al Qaeda an­nounced the cre­ation of a cell in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, but it failed to at­tract sig­nif­i­cant sup­port.

Musa is­sued a se­ries of au­dio mes­sages in April say­ing that Kash­mir’s strug­gle was for the Is­lamic cause and had noth­ing to do with na­tion­al­ism, which would mark an ide­o­log­i­cal shift for some mil­i­tants in Kash­mir, where rebels have mainly fought for In­dian-con­trolled por­tion to be­come in­de­pen­dent or merge with Pak­istan.

Sep­a­ratist lead­ers, who chal­lenge In­dia’s sovereignty over Kash­mir, have re­peat­edly re­jected the pres­ence of out­side groups, in­clud­ing al Qaeda, and have ac­cused In­dia of por­tray­ing the Kash­miri strug­gle as ex­trem­ist.

Se­nior In­dian po­lice of­fi­cer S.P. Vaid said troops will con­tinue to fight mil­i­tants ir­re­spec­tive of their af­fil­i­a­tions.

“Any­one who picks up gun to fight against the state is a ter­ror­ist to us. Their party af­fil­i­a­tion hardly mat­ters to us,” Vaid said.

How­ever, he said po­lice would closely mon­i­tor the im­pact of Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment on mil­i­tancy.

“It’s hard to pre­dict any im­pact im­me­di­ately, though there is a con­cern that it might sway youth to­ward the rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy,” he said.

Pak­istan-based rebel group Lashkar-e-Taiba called the an­nounce­ment a ploy by In­dia to de­fame Kash­mir’s strug­gle for free­dom.

It said in a state­ment that groups like al Qaeda “are be­ing brought up to la­bel the le­git­i­mate free­dom strug­gle as ter­ror­ism.”

In­dia blames Lashkar-eTaiba for a 2008 at­tack that left 166 peo­ple dead in In­dia’s com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of Mum­bai.

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