Al-Qaeda has expanded into the Indian subcontinent, the leader of the terror group said in a video statement released Thursday, with a regional group that he vowed would bring Islamic law to the region and "wage jihad against its enemies."
At least three Indian states with large Muslim populations had been put on alert in the wake of the video's release, local TV stations reported.
In the video, which was seen online by the SITE monitoring group, Ayman al-Zawahri said al-Qaeda had been preparing for years to set up in the region.
'This may be ruse for al-Zawahri to enhance his diminishing clout among Arab Muslims and Pakistani mujahedeen who are veering in a big way toward [ISIS] militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi'- Rana Banerji, security analyst from India
The new group "is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity," al-Zawahri said.
While the statement referred to the "Indian subcontinent" — a term that most commonly refers to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal — al-Zawahri's comments were widely seen as directed at India, a largely Hindu nation with a large Muslim minority.
Al-Zawahri said the group, Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, would fight for an Islamic state and laws across the region, "which was part of the Muslims' territories before it was occupied by the infidel enemy."
Until recently, India had largely seen itself as beyond the recruiting territory of international jihadists like al-Qaeda. Over the past few months, however, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group (ISIS), which has seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, has grown in prominence in India, and is increasingly believed to be gaining followers here. Last month, an Indian engineering student who had travelled to Iraq with friends, and who was thought to have joined the Islamic State, was reported killed.
Eclipsed by ISIS
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Thursday morning with top security and intelligence officials to discuss the threat.
A spokesman for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said the statement was "a matter of serious concern. But there is nothing to worry about. We have a strong government at the federal level."
India, though, has a notoriously underfunded and ill-trained security infrastructure. In 2008, a small group of Pakistani militants attacked Mumbai, India's financial hub, effectively shutting down the city for days and leaving 166 people killed.
New Delhi has also waged a long-running insurgency war in Kashmir, India's only majority-Muslim state, with militants fighting to bring independence to the Himalayan region or join it to neighbouring Pakistan. The fighting has left thousands of people dead.
Some analysts saw the announcement, which showed al-Zawahri speaking in front of a dark curtain, as an effort to revive the fortunes of al-Qaeda, which has been largely eclipsed, at least publicly, by ISIS, the militant group that in Syria and Iraq that recently executed two American journalists.
"This may be ruse for al-Zawahri to enhance his diminishing clout among Arab Muslims and Pakistani mujahedeen who are veering in a big way toward the Islamic State militant group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," said Rana Banerji, a prominent Indian intelligence and security analyst.