On Wednesday, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video announcing the launch of a new branch dedicated to waging jihad in the Indian subcontinent. In the 55-minute video, Zawahiri says that the new offshoot, Qaedat al Jihad, will fight to return Islam "to the Indian subcontinent, which was part of the Muslim world before it was invaded." He specifically mentioned four Indian states, including Kashmir and Gujarat, as well as Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma).
The India branch will be led by Asim Umar, an al Qaeda official in Pakistan. The Asia-Pacific region actually has three times the number of Muslims as the Middle East and North Africa — roughly 1 billion versus 322 million, according to Pew — and 13 percent of India is Muslim. The attempted incursion into India by al Qaeda is bad news for India-Pakistan relations, and for India's new Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, a former head of Gujarat state.
Al Qaeda has tried to gain a foothold in India before, Ajit Singh at India's South Asia Terrorism Portal tells CNN, but the group has a new urgency following the rise of the rival Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. If ISIS eclipses al Qaeda, "it's going to affect funding," Singh said. Already, ISIS is attracting all the new jihadist recruits, as well as some high-profile defectors from al Qaeda groups.