The videotaped message of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri about the creation of an Indian wing of his militant organisation was not a serious issue for Bangladesh, officials in Dhaka said yesterday.
The officials from home ministry and law enforcement agencies said there was no scope for the rise of militancy in the country, yet they were analysing the message with the utmost seriousness.
In the 56-minute video posted online on Wednesday, Zawahri announced the creation of "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent” to "raise the flag of jihad" across South Asia.
He said the formation of the branch would be good news for Muslims in Myanmar, Bangladesh and in the Indian states of Assam, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, where they would be rescued from injustice and oppression.
Zawahiri, who appeared eager to regain some of the limelight, used a mixture of his native Arabic and Urdu widely spoken in Pakistan.
“We are verifying the clip and will make a formal statement tomorrow or the day after,” State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters at his ministry yesterday.
He ruled out the possibility of Islamist militancy spreading its tentacles in Bangladesh but said agencies will check out whether any local organisation has links to al-Qaeda.
Kamal Uddin Ahmed, additional secretary (political) to the ministry, said, “Whenever there is such a release, we try to verify the authenticity before taking measures.”
In February, an audiovisual message, purported to be from Zawahri, urged the Muslims in Bangladesh to wage an intifada (popular uprising) to confront the “crusader onslaught against Islam”.
Titled “Bangladesh: A Massacre behind a Wall of Silence”, the statement alleged people were being killed for protesting the “collusion of the anti-Islam secular government with a bunch of transgressing secularists”.
The government is yet to say whether it was authentic or not.
Some intelligence officials yesterday said there were some al-Qaeda followers in Bangladesh despite the government crackdown on terrorist outfits and arrest of several top militant leaders.
The followers received militancy training in Afghanistan and fought for al-Qaeda abroad. They were involved in militancy in the country as well, the officials added.
A senior police officer, who has expertise in counterterrorism, said, “We have taken it seriously but we are yet to get an English translation of the message.”
New Delhi, however, regards Zawahri's statement as authentic and put several states of India on heightened alert, reports Reuters.
SNAB TO ISLAMIC STATE ?
According to experts, al-Qaeda's ageing leaders are struggling to compete for recruits with Islamic State (IS), previously known as ISIS, which has galvanised young followers around the world by carving out tracts of territory across the Iraq-Syria border.
One al-Qaeda strategy to counter its decline appears to be an effort to build support among the nearly half a billion Muslims who live in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, writes The Guardian.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself a "caliph" has demanded the loyalty of Muslims. Its efforts at state-building is something never attempted by al-Qaeda's central leaders.
The video message, however, did not mention IS or Baghdadi. But Zawahri's renewed vow of loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar could be seen as an apparent snub to the IS.
"This new group has not come into formation in a single day, but attempts to unite the jihadi groups of subcontinent were going on for nearly past two years. This group will work under the central al-Qaida, which is an army among the armies … led by Mullah Omar," Zawahri said.
The allegiance is also a sign that "al-Qaeda central", as it is known to specialists, remains focused on south and west Asia.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician, took the helm of the global militant organisation after US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
He called for unity among militants and criticised "discord", thus echoing a common al-Qaeda complaint against IS group's record of clashing with rival Islamist groups in Syria.
In the video, Zawahiri was seen focussing on a map of the Indian peninsula.
"A new branch of al-Qaeda was established called Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent, seeking to raise the flag of jihad, return the Islamic rule, and empowering the Shariah of Allah across the Indian subcontinent," he said in his opening remarks in Arabic.
In the statement, the al-Qaeda chief said its Indian branch had been two years in the making, and announced its chief would be Taliban commander Asim Umar.
Umar, about whom little is known, has featured in two previous statements, one aimed at Indian Muslims in which he incited them to join the global jihadi movement and a second focused on Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan region.
According to Bill Roggio of news website Long War Journal, “The creation of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and the promotion of Asim Umar highlight the close ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, India has asked agencies to take possible precautionary steps, our New Delhi correspondent reported.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met top security officials to discuss new security measures, while an initial assessment of the Intelligence Bureau found the video to be genuine.
The home ministry has directed state police forces to formulate action plans to guard against “recruitment” for the international group.
India has suffered several large-scale attacks by Islamist militants, most recently the 2008 Mumbai rampage by Pakistani fighters that left 166 people dead.
At one of the world's most influential Islamic seminaries, Darul Uloom Deoband, in northern India, an official said that extremist groups routinely try to recruit young, uneducated and poor Muslim boys as militants.
"We inform our students about the dangers faced by Islam, and rising militancy is one of the key subjects discussed in the seminary," said Ashraf Usmani from the seminary, which is known for its conservative Muslim thought.
"I can say this with confidence that no student from Deoband can be recruited by al-Qaeda or any other terror groups."
The video message also could pose a challenge to India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a hate figure for Islamist groups because of religious riots on his watch as Gujarat chief minister in 2002.
Zawahri made two references to the Indian state.