September 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Al-Qaida's developing reach worries India, Israel

In this image taken from video, Ayman al-Zawahri, head of al-Qaida, delivers a statement in a video, which was seen online by the SITE monitoring group, released Sept. 4, 2014. Al-Qaida has expanded into the Indian subcontinent, the leader of the terror group, said with a united group that will 'wage jihad against its enemies.' Al-Zawahri said al-Qaida had been preparing for years to set up in the region. (AP)

New Delhi — Promising to “storm your barricades with cars packed with gunpowder,” al-Qaida announced Thursday it had created an Indian branch that the terror network vowed would bring Islamic rule to the entire subcontinent.

The announcement by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri brought few signs of increased security in India even after the government ordered states to be on alert. Instead, al-Zawahri’s announcement by online video appeared directed more at his own rivals in the international jihad movement, analysts said.

“This is really very personal,” said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics. “You cannot understand this announcement without understanding the fierce rivalry between Islamic State and al-Qaida central.”

Al-Qaida has been increasingly overshadowed by the Islamic State group, a renegade al-Qaida offshoot that was expelled amid internal divisions and which has gone on to capture vast territory in Syria and Iraq, including oil wells and other income-generating resources, and has inspired thousands of fighters to join its jihadist mission. Al-Zawahri, in turn, has found his own influence pale beside that of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In India, where terror threats have largely come from Pakistan and Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region where al-Qaida’s influence is thought to be minimal, many derided the creation of the group — Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent — as a publicity stunt.

Al-Qaida “is struggling for its legitimacy in the eyes of the radicalized Muslim world,” said Ajai Sahni, a top Indian security analyst with the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

Meanwhile, for the first time in the Syrian civil war, al-Qaida fighters are hunkered down on Israel’s doorstep, and Israelis in the lush, hilly Golan Heights who have long considered Syrian President Bashar Assad their bitter foe are now worried about something more ominous — that they could become the militants’ next target.

The push into the Golan by the Nusra Front, as al-Qaida’s branch in Syria is known, comes just two weeks after Israel ended a 50-day war against Hamas on its southern border with the Gaza Strip.

Israelis in the Golan have grown accustomed to hearing the sound of distant battles between rival forces in Syria’s civil war. But last week’s seizure of the strategic Quneitra border crossing by a mix of rebels has created an unprecedented situation that has brought the extremists to within just a fewyards of Israeli positions.

But Gerges noted al-Qaida has long tried to nurture as many cells as possible, using affiliates in places like Yemen and East Africa to take pressure off relentless American attacks on its core operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.