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00:03, 05 September 2014 Friday

Indian states on alert after al Qaeda announces local wing

Indian states on alert after al Qaeda announces local wing

India put several provinces on heightened alert on Thursday after al Qaeda announced the formation of a wing of the militant group in India and its neighborhood, a senior government official said.



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".

New Delhi regards the message as authentic and has warned local governments, said an official who attended a security briefing in which it was discussed with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is responsible for policing and internal security.

"This matter has been taken very seriously," the official told Reuters. "An alert has been sounded."

Indian security forces are usually on a state of alert for attacks by home-grown Islamist militants and by anti-India groups based in Pakistan. It was not immediately clear what additional steps were being taken.

Zawahri's announcement made two references to Gujarat, the home state of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist.

Modi has long been a hate figure for Islamist groups because of religious riots in 2002 when he was chief minister of the state. More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in the spasm of violence.

"In the wake of this al Qaeda video, we will be on a higher alert," S.K. Nanda, the senior bureaucrat in the home department of Gujarat, told Reuters. A high security alert in the state involves activating informer networks in sensitive areas.

A senior police official said that Gujarat has been high on the list of militant organizations, including al Qaeda, since the 2002 riots. "It will be more so now because Narendra Modi is prime minister," the official said, requesting anonymity.

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

Ahmedabad is the main city in Gujarat state, which borders India's arch-rival, Pakistan.

Assam is a state in India's far-flung northeast where religious tensions are high after massacres of Muslims by tribal populations in the past two years. A senior intelligence officer in the state said security forces there were "well prepared" to face any threats.

Muslims make up 15 percent of the Indian population but, numbering an estimated 175 million, theirs is the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims on the subcontinent have grown since Pakistan was carved from Muslim-majority areas of India in 1947, a violent partition in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, has long attracted foreign mujahideen fighters as well as home-grown separatist militants. In June, al Qaeda released a video urging young radicals in Kashmir to draw inspiration from militants in Syria andIraq and join the "global jihad".