WASHINGTON: July 14 (TNS): Counter-terrorism experts have told the US lawmakers that Al-Qaida is getting more active in the Subcontinent and by 2017 it boasted several hundred members, with its cells mostly in Afghanistan and its operatives flourishing in Bangladesh. “Al-Qaida operatives in Bangladesh were particularly active, conducting a range of attacks. In addition, al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent conducted a steady propaganda campaign from its media arm As-Sahab,” he said.
However, the group conducted few attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan and was largely irrelevant in the Taliban-led insurgency, Jones said.
In September 2014, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had announced the creation of regional affiliate al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent, 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,” al-Zawahiri had said.
In October 2015, US and Afghan forces targeted a large training camp in Kandahar Province, killing over one hundred operatives linked to al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, Rhodes said.
According to Katherine Zimmerman, research fellow, American Enterprise Institute, the al-Qaida presence in the Indian subcontinent remains weak after Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the launch of a new affiliate in September 2014.
“By 2015, al-Qaida was running large training camps inside Afghanistan. The US began revising its assessments of al-Qaida’s strength in Afghanistan based on the discovery of these training camps,” he said.
“The US killed senior al-Qaida leaders operating in Afghanistan in an October 2016 air strike, their presence a telling indicator that al-Qaida had returned to the country,” he added.
Seth G Jones, a strategic expert said: “By 2017, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent boasted several hundred members and had cells in Afghanistan’s Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Paktika, Ghazni, and Nuristan Provinces. Al-Qaida’s presence in Afghanistan was almost certainly larger and more expansive than five or even ten years before.”
He was speaking during his Congressional testimony before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.This expansion, Jones added, may have been partly due to Taliban advances in Afghanistan and al-Qaida ties with operatives from the Taliban and other groups, such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.