Al Qaeda says it has group in India’s Kashmir
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.