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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 4 SEPTEMBER, 2014

Rivalries And Factionalism Drives Al Qaeda's Ageing Leader Zawahiri to South Asia

Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri (right) with his predecessor Osama bin Laden


NEW DELHI : It was just a matter of time. The al Qaeda, almost as per predictions, has entered South Asia. In a 55 minute video al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has renewed his loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and described the formation of the “Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent as good tidings for the muslims”in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad and Kashmir.”

The Union Home Ministry has asked the agencies to examine the authenticity of the video recording, and has sounded a red alert. Zawahiri’s tape is being seen, however by experts following the terror groups in West Asia, as a bid to keep the al Qaeda relevant as it is losing ground to the younger, more ruthless, and organised Islamic State. Mullah Omar and Zawahiri, both in hiding, are getting increasingly isolated in the new militancy that is visible across Iraq and Syria and clearly the South Asia chapter announced by him is an effort to get back into the news, and revive.

Zawahiri’s whereabouts are not known, but like Taliban’s Mullah Omar, is believed to be somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan from where he releases regular videos and statements.

Zawahiri was a surgeon and left the profession to join Osama Bin Laden and the al Qaeda. He had completed his education in Cairo,is 64 years old, and from an upper class family of doctors and scholars. He became part of the force created by the United States at the time to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and it was here that he came into contact with Osama bin Laden. He made it to the US book of records in 1996. He remained close to bin Laden throughout and was perceived by many as the brains behind the man. He was also bin Laden’s personal physician and credited with keeping him alive despite a serious kidney ailment.

In 2011 Zawahiri became the head of the al Qaeda, and unlike his predecessor, is not seen as careful in his conversations with others in the organisation. For instance US interceptors have picked up “chatter” over telephone lines that were, however, not traceable for whatever reasons. Zawahiri goes by many aliases, from the teacher, the doctor, and Muhammad Ibrahim. He speaks Arabic and French. And of course he has a reward of 25 million US dollars on his head.

In the ongoing factional war between the terror groups for space and leadership Zawahiri is pitted against Islamic States Abu Bakr al-Baghdad whose ruthless tactics as evident in Iraq and Syria have placed him in the forefront where the younger militants are concerned.In fact as proof of the territorial war, reports quoting highplaced sources at the time, quoted Zawahiri as directing Baghdadi in May this year to leave Syria , and to go back to Iraq. He has also given statements expressing unhappiness about the factionalism within the organisations, and blamed Baghdadi for this more than the others.

Baghdadi has rejected Zawahiri’s interventions, refused to accept his diktat, and given himself a larger than life image by describing himself as a Caliph. Zawahiri in two years has lost considerable ground as he sought to expand the al Qaeda far above its abilities, and lost support in the region that has actually led counter terrorism experts globally to predict an early end to the al Qaeda. The Syrian government has for long been maintaining that Baghdadi, who it claims received his training from Mossad in Israel, was a “creation” of the United States and is now on the other side of the fence after having crossed the line with unbridled ambition that has made him turn the guns on his initial benefactors.

The call to set up a India chapter of the al Qaeda thus comes against this background, and is already being seen in the globally as a last song of an ageing leader. The tactics of the al Qaeda, largely suicide bombings, have been replaced by the more old Taliban style of operations with cadres of trained militants literally marching through Iraq and border towns of Syria to “seize power” and fly their flag through large scale executions and violence. In a world where these kind of massacres are justified the terrorist groups are vying for space and leadership.

Zawahiri’s call will now feed into communal propaganda against the minorities in South Asia and create further foment and trouble unless the governments show sufficient maturity and resilience to counter this threat without playing into the hands of al Qaeda’s s divisive and hate generating politics.

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