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Sep 04, 2014 at 02:36pm IST

Al-Qaeda threat: India on high alert, Home Ministry sends probe teams to sensitive areas

New Delhi: Union Home Ministry on Thursday issued an all-India alert and sent investigative teams to sensitive areas after an al-Qaeda video announced the launch of its terror wing in the country. The Intelligence Bureau is verifying the authenticity of the video after the Home Ministry asked the agency for a report on the same.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the al-Qaeda video and listed the steps being taken.

The government has asked all states to be on high alert for any possible terror attack. IB sources also say that that al-Qaeda does not have a cell in India yet, otherwise it would not have released a video.

Senior CPI leader D Raja condemned the al-qaeda threat and said, "India is not a weak country. Hope Indian government takes note. All Indians stand united. Extremist organizations cannot give such threats. India should should not panic on such threats."

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahri on Wednesday announced the formation of an Indian branch of his terror group which he said would spread Islamic rule and "raise the flag of jihad" across the subcontinent.

In a 55-minute video posted online, Zawahri also renewed a longstanding vow of loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in an apparent snub to the Islamic State armed group challenging al-Qaeda for leadership of transnational Islamist militancy.

Zawahri described the formation of "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" as a glad tidings for Muslims "in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir" and said that the new wing would rescue Muslims there from injustice and oppression.

Counter-terrorism experts say al-Qaeda's aging leaders are struggling to compete for recruits with Islamic State, which has galvanized young followers around the world by carving out tracts of territory across the Iraq-Syria border.

Islamic State leader Abu Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls himself a "caliph" or head of state and has demanded the loyalty of all Muslims.

The group fell out with Zawahri in 2013 over its expansion into Syria, where Baghdadi's followers have carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.

As well being an indirect repudiation of Islamic State, the announcement could pose a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has already faced criticism for remaining silent about several incidents deemed anti-Muslim, underscoring fears that his Hindu nationalist followers will upset religious relations in the majority Hindi nation.

However, while al-Qaeda is very much at home in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, due to influential contacts and a long presence there, it is a minnow compared to local militant groups in terms of manpower and regional knowledge.

Safe haven

Over the years Zawahri and his predecessor Osama bin Laden, killed by US forces in 2011, repeatedly pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar, in return for the safe haven he granted their followers in Afghanistan.

The statement did not mention Islamic State or Baghdadi, but it appear to take a subtle dig at the group's efforts at administering areas it has seized in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic State's effort at state-building is something never attempted by al-Qaeda's central leaders, who traditionally have preferred to plot complex attacks on targets in the West.

Zawahri called for unity among militants and criticized "discord" - echoing a common al Qaeda complaint against Islamic State's record of clashing with rival Islamist groups in Syria.

The statement also warned al Qaeda's new wing against oppressing local populations - another complaint leveled against Islamic State by critics in Iraq and Syria.

"If you said that you are doing jihad to defend the sanctities of the Muslims, then you must not transgress against them or their money or honor, and not even transgress your mujahideen brothers by word and action," he said.

"Discord is a curse and torment, and disgrace for the believers and glory for the disbelievers," he said. "If you say that by your jihad you do not want but the pleasure of Allah, then you must not race for governance and leadership at the first opportunity."