Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent’s Propaganda Campaign Continues Despite Digital Disruptions and Stifled Operational Capability

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 2

Cover page of Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad magazine (source:

In late November 2019, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)  issued a message on its digital platforms, both through Telegram messaging channel and through al-Qaeda’s official al-Sahab web portal, urging members to ensure unity among the ranks and learn lessons from the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. AQIS criticized the rival IS group and its slain leader, underscoring how the group divided the global jihad movement and almost destroyed it through sowing discord within. This message was among a series of publications released late last year by the AQIS spokesman and present leader Osama Mahmoud, who succeeded slain leader Asim Umar in September last year, with blessings from al-Qaeda central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Despite a series of setbacks with leadership decapitations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last few months, AQIS, the fifth and youngest affiliate of the transnational terrorist group, maintains its propaganda campaign to mobilize a broad support base in its areas of operation—Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Broadly, two principals are a constant focus of AQIS’ media campaign—far enemies (anti-Western propaganda, US, Israel, Christian and Jews) and the near enemy (Anti-Pakistan campaign/Pakistan military). The category of near enemy also includes the Saffron terrorist campaign (the Hindu right-wing in India) and war against secular and anti-Islam (Taghut) governments (Bangladesh and Myanmar).  Like AQAP’s Inspire magazine series, AQIS published at least two issues of Resurgence magazine. The first issue released under the editorship of Hassaan Yusuf in October 2014 covered most of the countries of South Asia and also delved into Myanmar and East Turkestan. [1]

Besides Resurgence, which has described various future targets and strategies to achieve jihadist goals, AQIS came out with more robust and specific guidelines for violent jihad after almost three years of its formation. It released its “Code of Conduct” (CoC) document in June 2017, emphasizing its allegiance to Zawahiri and the emir of the Taliban. This document remains a core propaganda literature of AQIS, reiterating its geographical focus and objectives. The document is also vital for several reasons as it provides details about AQIS’ bureaucratic structure, operations, and, more importantly, the future targets of AQIS. Though two years have passed since its release, AQIS has largely failed to act upon the document, which specified its targets in different countries in South Asia. These targets included Western assets in Afghanistan—in order to defend the so-called Islamic Emirate—and military targets in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India.

The strategy behind AQIS’ consistent information campaign is to continue the so-called ‘long war’ and to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim populace in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Often criticized for not using vernacular local languages as its rival IS used in southern parts of India, AQIS’ media wing has begun strategically using languages other than Arabic and Urdu, such as Bengali and Tamil, to incite Muslims in the subcontinent to take up arms to defend Islam. Its various media units focus on the narrative of Ghazwat al-Hind (Islamic Battle against India). AQIS highlighted jihadist mythology of decisive Islamic war  against India for the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate in accordance with Sharia law. Also, the statements from Zawahiri, Asim Umar  and Hassan Yusuf often cite a hadith (a report of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) stating, “Allah has saved two groups of the Ummah from hellfire; the group that will invade al-Hind [India] and the group that will be with Isa Ibn-e-Maryam [Jesus] in Damascus.” [2] This seems to be one of the key doctrinal factors behind the renewed jihadist surge in the Indian subcontinent and birth of AQIS.

Return of AQIS’ Mouthpiece

In August 2019, AQIS resumed publication of the long-standing jihadist magazine, Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad (Voice of Afghan Jihad), under a new editorial team, following the Pakistani crackdown on the previous publishing unit of AQIS. Muthanna Hassan was identified as the present chief of AQIS’ newly formed media commission and perhaps succeeded Usama Ibrahim, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2016. In a series of audiovisual messages, titled  Paigham e Islam (Message of Islam),  AQIS linked clerics, Usama Mahmood, Maulana Muthanna Hassan and Hafiz Sohiab Ghauri, criticized Pakistan by saying that the Pakistani Constitution was not adhering to Islamic Sharia laws and was contradicting every aspect of Sharia. The messages also urged Islamic scholars and clerics to clarify the truth to the Pakistani people and expose the so-called democratic regime. In one of these messages Muthana Hasan criticized the Pakistani Army and reiterated that it is an individual obligation of the people of Afghanistan and those in neighboring regions to support the Afghan Taliban to fight and ultimately defeat America, its allies and its agents.” [3]

Since 2008, al-Qaeda has been publishing the Urdu monthly Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad and it has an active web portal,, showcasing past issues of the magazine.

Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad magazines’ focus on India is an indicator of AQIS’s desire to incite, influence, and induct Indian Muslims into its fold. One of the recent issues criticized the Indian Supreme Court ruling that allowed Hindus to build a temple at the site of demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. This ruling prompted AQIS to urge for “jihad to end alleged injustice against Muslims in India.” To note, al-Qaeda and other India-centric militant groups in Pakistan have often used the Babri mosque demolition of 1992 as a starting point for the Muslim oppression argument to incite jihad in and against India. Similarly, AQIS’ saffron terror audiovisual series in late 2017 targeted India’s right-wing political groups and purported vigilante violence against minority Muslims. The AQIS video messages were ostensibly aimed at vitiating the communal atmosphere in India (Terrorism Monitor, March 23, 2018). Similarly, the editorial section of the magazine’s September 2019 issue focused on Kashmir, indicating al-Qaeda’s larger ambition to take advantage of the deteriorating situation in the Indian-administered state. The editorial also criticized both India and Pakistan for their anti-Islamic activities and announced that Islamist fighters “were ready to free Kashmir” from the control of both countries (Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad, September 2019).

Global Ambition?

Even if AQIS struggles to impact jihadist movements in the South Asian region after five years operating, it continues to show ambition to influence global jihadist discourse. A cursory look at AQIS’ five-year media campaign suggests it is mostly focused on local concerns including the plight of Kashmiris or Rohingyas in Pakistan and Myanmar, and the Bangladeshi army’s atrocities against Muslims. Occasionally, however, it delves into global concerns in tandem with its parent group. For instance, the December 2019 issue of AQIS’ Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad magazine eulogized Muhammad al-Shamrani, the Saudi Royal Air Force officer who mounted a deadly attack in Pensacola, Florida as a jihadist hero and called for similar attacks against U.S. soldiers. The Urdu language magazine also paid rich tribute to Omar Dabaa Ilyas, a resident of Kristiansand, Norway who saved a copy of the Koran from being burned during a protest in November 2019. The magazine said Omar Ilyas had made Muslims proud by attacking an “infidel” who was burning a copy of the Koran. [4]

AQIS’ recent comments on its global agenda were not new. In November 2014, two months after AQIS was formalized as a group under al-Qaeda’s banner in South Asia, it released a statement urging jihadist groups in the Middle East to unite in order to fight the U.S.-led coalition’s war against jihadists in Syria and Iraq. The statement was issued by spokesman Osama Mahmoud stating that “the latest American aggression on Iraq and Syria has once again proved that America is the head of kufr (infidels) and a leader of tyrannical system.” [5] In a video message in June 2015, titled  “From France to Bangladesh: the Dust Will Never Settle Down,” AQIS covered issues ranging from Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to India’s right-wing government and the speeches of its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches (Firstpost, May 21, 2015).

Surviving Digital Disruption

AQIS and its parent group al-Qaeda have  shown remarkable resilience in keeping the propaganda campaign afloat, especially the virtual presence and information dissemination through social media platforms. The group’s official website, al-Sahab, has remained active since 2018, despite concerted international efforts to block the website. It survives without much interruption by frequently changing its domain services.  It smoothly shifted to different domain names when faced with outages, for example, from ‘’ and ‘’ to the latest ‘’ with all its content remaining intact and accessible. Both groups share the same platform to showcase respective press releases, audio-visual statements, and publications by providing free access.

AQIS continues to exploit the messaging app Telegram, despite recent crackdowns on extremist content. Most recently, AQIS has also used Rocket Chat, another messaging app, among other social media messaging applications for its propaganda along with ‘Al-Sahab’ or ‘Matboaatejihad’ web portals.


AQIS, the youngest subsidiary of al-Qaeda, emerged and remained powerful as a conglomeration of existing militant groups within the Indian subcontinent. After a brief lull in 2018, AQIS renewed its propaganda campaigns by constantly focusing on targets and possible attacks in South Asia in 2019, thereby suggesting that al-Qaeda’s South Asian affiliate is resilient in the region despite several major setbacks that include the death of its founding leader Asim Umar in Musa Qala, Afghanistan in September 2019.

Even though it failed to carry out any large strikes in the countries the group focuses on—despite its organizational strength, strong ties with local militant groups, and terror infrastructures at its disposal—its unhindered media campaigns over the years is suggestive of al-Qaeda’s long-term jihad in South Asia. At the time of its formation, it was endorsed as “vanguard of Muslims in the east” by al-Qaeda’s powerful branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Like AQAP, which played a pivotal role in al-Qaeda’s global jihadist propaganda campaign, AQIS seemingly plays a similar role in the Indian subcontinent.


[1] Hassan Yusuf, “A step Towards Unity of Ranks”,  Resurgence, October 2014,  pp.19-20.

[2] For example, Cited in Asim Umar’s message for the Muslims of India, “Why is There No Storm in Your Ocean?”, July 2013, accessible at

[3] Featured in “The Message of Islam (Episode 3 and 4) – “Is Pakistan an Islamic State?” and, “Is Peaceful Struggle (Nonviolence) the Path to the Establishment of the Shariah” with English subtitles), September – October 2019, avaibale at

[4] The New dedicated website of AQIS “” (Publications of Jihad and Dawa)” exclusively publishing jihadist material in Urdu language including Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad magazines. See, the

[5] ‘Targeting The Interests Of The Enemy [America] Worldwide Through The Global Movement Of Jihad Is The Way’, MEMRI, November 04, 2014