Highlights

  • Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri shared a close relationship with Asim Umar - an Indian national from UP's Sambhal
  • Zawahri named Umar as the Emir of AQIS
  • Before joining militancy, Umar was a student of Deoband’s Darul-Uloom

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How an Indian radical from UP's Sambhal rose through the ranks in Zawahri led al-Qaeda

Zawahri, who commanded al-Qaeda after bin Laden’s death in 2011, found a close confidante in Asim Umar, who hailed from UP’s Sambhal. Such was their bond that Zawahri trusted Umar with helming Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent – the brainchild of Zawahri. 

Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al-Qaeda, was killed by the United States (US) in a ‘precision drone strike’ in Afghanistan on Sunday. While much about the slain doctor-turned-terrorist has been written in the media, not a lot is known about the close relationship the ‘9/11 mastermind’ shared with an Indian radical from Uttar Pradesh.

Zawahri, who commanded al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, found a close confidante in Asim Umar, also known as Sanaul Haq, who hailed from UP’s Sambhal. Such was their bond that Zawahri trusted Umar with helming Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) – the brainchild of Zawahri.

On 3 September 2014, Zawahri announced the establishment of a new branch of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent in a 55-minute video posted online. During the announcement, Zawahri stated that it had taken two years to gather various jihadist factions into the new group, and introduced Maulana Asim Umar, as its Emir.

Asim Umar was killed during a joint US-Afghan operation on a Taliban compound in Helmand province on September 23.

What is AQIS?

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent is an Islamist militant organisation which aims to fight the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh in order to establish an Islamic state.

The militant group has also stated its intentions to attack American targets in the Indian subcontinent. It is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, United States, Canada, India, and Pakistan.

Also Watch| Did someone from Taliban sell out Ayman al-Zawahri to the US?

The journey of Zawahri’s close aide

Before joining militancy, Umar was a student of Deoband’s Darul-Uloom.

He left India in 1995 to join the terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) which had close ties with al-Qaeda. He remained in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he also had short stints at Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia in Karachi and Darul Uloom Haqqania in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Adept in many languages, Umar translated ‘jihadi’ literature from Pashto to Urdu and wrote at least four books on jihad. He rose through the ranks of the Pakistani militant group and subsequently his stature grew in al-Qaeda as well when he was named AQIS chief by Zawahri.

It is believed that Umar’s excellent oratory skills and knowledge of jihadi literature got him close to the top al-Qaeda leadership.

Umar reportedly radicalised many Indian youths through his contacts in Deoband to set up an AQIS base. He also propagated ‘jihad’ through online videos which showed him delivering radical sermons. In many of his videos and other appeals, he asked Indian Muslims to “follow the example of lone wolves in Europe and kill administrative and police officers in India.”

The Indian operatives of AQIS, however, didn’t receive much success as most of its operative cells were busted by the security forces. The alleged south India cell of AQIS called Base Movement formed in 2014 had claimed responsibility for a series of blasts in courts in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh in 2016.

The same year, the US designated Umar as a global terrorist.

Also Watch| How US forces killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri: inside details

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