Al Qaeda seeking 'opportunistic attacks', but capability 'low' in India: UN

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United Nations : The Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is looking to carry out opportunistic attacks, but has low operational capability in India, according to a UN report.

"AQIS is relatively isolated owing to increased security measures within the wider region, but the group continues to seek security gaps for opportunistic attacks," according to the report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) released on Monday.

"The group, Al Qaeda's newest affiliate, is ideologically inclined to carry out attacks inside India but its capability is believed to be low," the report said.

AQIS was formed in 2014 and was led by Asim Umar, who is said to be an Indian belonging to the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, which was itself an Al Qaeda sponsored organisation.

Al Qaeda in Arab Peninsula (AQAP) was entrusted with carrying out propaganda for AQIS along with other Al Qaeda groups, the UN team's report said.

For the South Asia region, the report said that Al Qaeda posed a longer-term threat, even though the IS was seen as an immediate threat.

It said: "Al Qaeda still maintains a presence in South Asia. It adapts to the local environment while trying to embed itself into local struggles and communities. It is closely allied with the Taliban."

Quoting a UN member nation it did not identify, the report added that although the IS "posed an immediate threat, Al Qaeda was the 'intellectually stronger group' and remained a longer-term threat".

It also said that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden's son, Hamza, were reported to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas.

But the report asserted that Islamabad had taken steps to reduce terrorism-related activities near the border.

"In Pakistan, extensive counter-terrorist operations are reported to have led to a reduction in the number of terrorists and terrorist training facilities, and in the quantity of locally available explosive material in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Some of the terrorists were displaced across the border into Afghanistan," it said.

The report said that members and leaders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have joined the IS and make up a majority of its cadres in Afghanistan estimated to number between 3,500 and 4,500.

Globally it noted that "while there was as yet little evidence of a re-emerging direct global threat from Al Qaeda, improved leadership and enhanced communication will probably increase the threat over time, as will any rise in the tendency, already visible in some regions, of ISIL supporters to join Al Qaeda".

The UN team's assessment of the AQIS capability in India was similar to that made separately in 2017 by an independent terrorism expert, Mohammed Sinan Siyech of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

In a paper published online by the Washington-based Middle East Institute last September, Siyech wrote: "Al Qaeda's presence in India was modest, at best -- comparable to that of its rival the Islamic State, which, despite its remarkable worldwide propaganda and networks, did not manage to accomplish any large-scale attacks and whose very limited appeal among Indian Muslims, according to official accounts, further dwindled."

He attributed it to "the rigorous scrutiny of Indian security agencies, the influential role of the family-oriented Indian Muslim community, along with the vehement opposition by the country's major madrasas and movements".

(Arul Louis can be reached at