As the sun rose in Kabul on Sunday, two Hellfire missiles fired by a US drone ended Ayman al-Zawahiri’s decade-long reign as the leader of Al-Qaida who helped Osama bin Laden plot the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden’s death came in May 2011, face to face with a US assault team led by Navy SEALs in Pakistan. Zawahri’s death came from afar, at 6:18am in Kabul.
Zawahiri’s videos since 2001 have made mentions of India but it is after taking over the terrorist group following Bin Laden’s death in a US raid in 2011 that he ramped up threats against India.
‘Caravan of Jihad
In September 2014, Ayman al-Zawahiri had announced the creation of regional affiliate Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), taking advantage of sanctuaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
“A new branch of al-Qaida was established — Qaida al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, seeking to raise the flag of jihad,…and return the Islamic rule across the Indian subcontinent," The Al-Qaeda chief had said.
In a video, the terrorist leader called on Muslims in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to join the “caravan of jihad". According to a report in The Guardian, Zawahiri said the new “Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent" would be “the standard bearer" of Osama bin Laden’s “global message, which aimed to unite the (world’s Muslims) in jihad against (the) enemy, liberate occupied lands and establish the caliphate".
In June this year, the Zawahiri-led terrorist outfit released a statement threatening to carry out suicide attacks against India in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai and New Delhi over suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s controversial remarks on Prophet Mohammad.
“We shall kill those who affront our Prophet and we shall bind explosives with our bodies and the bodies of our children to blow away the ranks of those who dare to dishonor our Prophet… [They] shall find no amnesty or clemency, no peace and security will save them and this matter will not close with any words of condemnation or sorrow," the statement threatened.
In April 2022, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri used the Hijab controversy in Karnataka to target democracy in India. In a nearly 9-minute video clip released by the terror outfit online, and verified by the American SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri praised a Karnataka college student for confronting a group of students opposing hijab in her college in early February.
“May Allah reward her for exposing the reality of Hindu India and the deception of its pagan democracy,” the Al-Qaeda chief said in the Arabic video clip. Addressing Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, he said they must realise that in the real world “there is no such thing as human rights or respect of the Constitution or law”.
In a video released on July 2019, the Al-Qaeda chief calls for “Mujahideen in Kashmir" to inflict “unrelenting blows" on the Indian Army and the government in Jammu and Kashmir.
“I am of the view that the Mujahideen (armed terrorists) in Kashmir - at this stage at least - should focus with single mind on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government so as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment.”
Zawahiri also said the “fight in Kashmir” is not a separate conflict but part of the worldwide Muslim community’s “jihad against a vast array of forces”. He called on “unnamed” scholars to propagate this point.
Officials had then said that the video was an attempt to unite the disgruntled terrorist ranks in the Valley.
In another video message in May this year, Zawahiri calls the dilution of Article 370, which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir, “a slap in the face of Muslims”. Drawing parallels between Kashmir and Palestine, the terrorist leader slams Arab countries for supporting India on the issue of J&K.