Zawahri's announcement refrred to Gujarat twice, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (photo: Reuters)
The formation of a new wing of al Qaeda in South Asia is being seen as the last roll of the dice by the terror organisation to stay relevant after the spectacular success of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
In a video posted online, al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahri promised to spread Islamic rule and "raise the flag of jihad" across the "Indian subcontinent". According to a Reuters report, the Indian government believes this video is authentic and has warned state governments to be on increased alert.
"This matter has been taken very seriously," a senior government official told Reuters. "An alert has been sounded."
Security forces are usually on a state of alert for attacks by anti-India groups based in Pakistan and by home-grown Islamic militants. The official did not specify any additional steps being taken.
Al Qaeda has had little presence in India so far. The timing and content of the video suggests rivalry between al Qaeda and its more successful protégé, now rival, the Islamic State. According to media reports, Islamic State pamphlets have been distributed in Pakistan in recent days.
Zawahri said the formation of "al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" was glad tidings for Muslims "in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir". He claimed in the video that the new wing would rescue Muslims in these places from injustice and oppression.
Yet with al Qaeda using a different model to the franchising approach that has worked so far, this reveals more about the competition from the Islamic State that it does about the terror organisation set up by Osama Bin Laden.
After all, Zawahiri did not confer franchise status on any South Asian militant outfit. Instead, he declared the setting up of a new formation with Umar Asim, who has connections with the Pakistani Taliban, as the leader to head this new wing.
With a few Indian Muslims signing up for Islamic State and travelling to the Middle East, al Qaeda is struggling to attract attention. Its eastern expansion is therefore a competitive exercise in branding, according to Scroll.in.
By not lending its name to a local group, al Qaeda has committed itself to active organisation of its terror efforts in India, which would be a novel approach for the terror outfit.
His announcement made two references to Gujarat, the home state of new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a hate figure for Islamist groups because of religious riots when he was chief minister of the state in 2002. More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in the violence.
"In the wake of this al Qaeda video, we will be on a higher alert. We will work closely with the central government to tackle any threat posed to the state," S.K. Nanda, the most senior bureaucrat in the home department of Gujarat, told Reuters.
A senior police official told Reuters that Gujarat has been high on the list of militant organisations, including al Qaeda, since the 2002 riots.
"It will be more so now because Narendra Modi is prime minister," said the official who declined to be identified.