Kashmiri Al-Qaeda Threatens Strikes on Multinationals, Corporates
The threat, first of its kind by a Kashmiri jihadist group, was released online on encrypted chat rooms on Monday.
Threatening attacks against economic and civilian targets nationwide, al-Qaeda’s Kashmir wing has said its targets will now include “companies which are associated with the Government of India, or those foreign companies which have or wish to invest in India”. The threat, the first of its kind by a Kashmiri jihadist group, was released online on encrypted jihadist chat rooms late on Monday, 26 February.
Issued by Zakir Rashid Bhat, a breakaway Hizbul-Mujahideen jihadist who set up a fledgling al-Qaeda unit in Kashmir, last year, the statement justifies attacking corporate entities because they are part of “those supporters and personnel who run the tyrannical and infidel system of India, protect it and give it advantage”.
First Formal Declaration of Economic Warfare
Though Indian corporate entities have been attacked by jihadists in the past – notably on 26/11 and earlier in the Mumbai serial bombings of 1993 – Monday’s al-Qaeda manifesto is the first formal declaration of economic warfare against India by a jihadist group.
“Few corporate facilities in India have even basic security systems in place to guard against attack”, noted a senior police officer in Mumbai, adding:
Al-Qaeda in Kashmir has only a few operatives on hand, but even one or two men with assault weapons can inflict enormous harm.
“Police, intelligence services and corporate security heads should take this threat seriously”, the officer said.
In 2010, the National Investigation Agency held Hyderabad resident Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq for planning a strike on multinational Deloitte’s offices in Hi-Tech City, using grenades supplied by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, police sources said.
There have also been alleged terrorist plots targeted at strategic targets, like the Reliance oil refinery in Jamnagar, Larsen & Toubro’s shipyard in Tamil Nadu, and the international airport in Mumbai.
Barring the kidnapping and killing of five tourists from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Norway in 1995, carried out by the Harkat-ul-Ansar, jihadists in Kashmir have rarely threatened foreigners, believing it would undermine the international legitimacy of their cause.
However, new entrants on the Kashmir jihadi landscape, like the al-Qaeda, have a long record of targeting Western nationals and interests.
New Jihadists Influenced by Global Movements?
Intelligence services have become increasingly concerned that a new generation of Kashmiri jihadists inspired by global movements might spearhead such plans.
In December, teenager Fardeen Khandey and 21-year-old Manzoor Baba participated in a suicide-attack on a Central Reserve Police Force complex in south Kashmir’s Pulwama – becoming the first ethnic Kashmiris to participate in a fidayeen operation.
Familiar with major Indian cities, and easily able to travel across the country, this new generation of recruits would be able to stage attacks more easily than fidayeen sent from across the border, intelligence analysts say – and, as important, leave no trail of blame that could lead to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Bhat himself, interestingly, studied for an engineering qualification at Chandigarh’s Ram Dev Jindal College, but was asked to leave after failing his first term examinations. Humiliated by his lack of success compared with his older brother, a Srinagar-based doctor, Bhat drifted towards religious extremism, and then the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
Last year, Usama Mehmood, the second-in-command of al-Qaeda’s South Asia operations and Bhat’s presumed commander, argued that the key to victory in Kashmir lay in attacking Indian cities, not a war of attrition within Kashmir itself.
“India is already using 6,00,000 troops just to hold on to Kashmir”, Mehmood said in a statement released late in December. “If it is attacked in Kolkata, Bangalore and New Delhi, it will come to its senses and release its grip on Kashmir.”
In addition, Indian nationals who joined the Islamic State’s operations in both Afghanistan and Syria have threatened to stage strikes at home. In a 2016 video, Thane resident Aman Tandel – since killed in an air strike on the Syrian city of Raqqa –vowed that his group returned to India “with a sword in hand, to avenge the Babri Masjid, and the killings of Muslims in Kashmir, in Gujarat, and in Muzaffarnagar”.
Abu Rashid Ahmed, sought by the NIA for his alleged role in the Indian Mujahideen bombings, also appeared in the video. “Have you forgotten the train bombings in Mumbai, or the bombings in Ahmedabad, and Surat, and Jaipur and Delhi?” he asked.
Formed by former members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul-Mujahideen’s cadre in Kashmir, Zakir Bhat’s al-Qaeda affiliate, which calls itself Ansar Ghazwat-Ul-Hind, is thought by the Jammu and Kashmir Police to consist of less than a dozen men. In addition, the group suffers from shortages of weapons and cash, since, unlike other jihadist groups, it lacks a patron across the Line of Control.
However, the group has proved capable of gaining support from a new generation of Islamist youth, disenchanted with traditional secessionist politicians, exposed to online jihadist propaganda, and hardened in street battles with the police.
In Monday’s message, Bhat appealed to potential recruits by describing Pakistan’s Generals – who sponsor his rivals – as “slaves of America”. “They have been fighting against the Mujahideen for many years, now”, he asserts.
“When their relations with India are good, they imprison you, but when relations are bad, they push you towards the border to fight.”
He also asked “every able-bodied youth to attack the Indian Army’s convoys, and thus make its movement difficult, by using petrol bombs”.
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