Ansar-ut Tawhid and the Transnational Jihadist Threat to India

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 12

Transnational Islamist terrorist groups have recently made sporadic attempts to lure India’s Muslim population towards global jihad, frequently urging them to fight the democratically elected secular government. India-specific incitements have issued from al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri and al-Qaeda ideologue Maulana Asim Umar through audio-visual messages that directly target Indian Muslims. A similar anti-India campaign was unleashed by a hitherto unknown group calling itself Ansar-ut Tawhid fi Bilad al-Hind (AuT – Supporters of Monotheism in the Land of India) through its media arm, al-Isabah Media. Its messages highlight the issue of government atrocities against Muslims in India and encourage Indian Muslims to join the ongoing Afghan or Syrian jihads and to carry out attacks inside India.

The AuT has issued at least four videotapes since October 2013, the most recent of them surfaced on May 17, when the group called for attacks against Indian targets worldwide. The ten-minute video featuring AuT leader Maulana Abdur Rahman al-Hindi urges other prominent jihadi leaders such as the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Nasir Abd al-Wuhayshi of al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab’s Abdi Godane and Abd al-Malik Droukdel of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to come forward to attack Indian Government interests and its economic centers in India and elsewhere as a means of “protecting the Muslims of India.” [1]

The AuT’s call appeared to resonate immediately when suspected Taliban militants attacked the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s Herat Province on May 23, with the aim of embarrassing the newly-elected Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Narendra Modi, who is prominently attacked in the AuT’s propaganda materials (AP, May 23). Islamists have long blamed the BJP and its leadership for demolishing Ayodhya’s 16th century Babri Mosque in December 1992, an act that fanned countrywide communal tensions that left 2,000 dead and fuelled an enduring schism between India’s Hindu and Muslim communities. Numerous episodes of sectarian violence, including the Gujarat riots of 2002, have a direct connection to the mosque’s demolition. The AuT’s May 17 message attempted to exploit the socio-religious divide prevalent in India.

Through its media arm, AuT released its first ever propaganda message in October 2013. Entitled “In the Land of Hind: Usood al-Hind (Lions of India),” the video called for the participation of Indian Muslims in the global jihad. [2] A subsequent video entitled “From Kandahar to Delhi” attempted to incite Indian Muslims to take revenge for the anti-Muslim disturbances in Gujarat, Assam, Hyderabad and, most recently, in the Uttar Pradesh city of Muzaffarnagar. [3] The video portrayed AuT chief Maulana Abdul Rahman al-Hindi flanked by seven gunmen together with still footage of past communal clashes and terrorist attacks, including the Babri Mosque demolition, the Mumbai serial blasts and the Gujarat riots. These events found a place in AuT’s subsequent propaganda videos. One such message entitled, “Oh Indian Muslims, if you can’t understand, you will perish!” was issued by al-Isabah Media in late March. [4] This 18-minute video declared that, since independence from British yoke in 1947, “Indian Muslims are living in fear and dread under the Hindus… who worship cows.”

Most of the AuT’s Arabic and Urdu messages demand the overthrow of Hindu supremacy in India and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. AuT videos eulogize those who have perpetrated the numerous terrorist revenge attacks inside India following the Babri Mosque demolition. Proudly terming all the slain Muslim terrorists as martyrs, the videos are dedicated to all Indian-origin mujahideen who are fighting on jihadist battlefields in different parts of the world.

AuT messages commonly include verses from the Quran and Islamic hadith-s (deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).The visuals depict the jihadist “Black Flag of Khorasan” (a medieval Islamic empire consisting of most of modern Afghanistan and parts of Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), piercing a map of India or hoisted atop the Red Fort of Delhi, indicating that this new anti-Indian jihad originates from Afghanistan. 

Media reports indicate that a breakaway faction of the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) formed the AuT with the help of the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban (Mail Today [Delhi], May 23). If Intelligence sources are to be believed, around six IM militants have joined the AuT and are undergoing training in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province (The Hindu [Chennai], May 22). Most of these IM operatives are from the movement’s Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh) and Bhatkal (Karnataka) wings that fled to Pakistan following the countrywide crackdown on IM’s infrastructures in 2008-2009.

On May 30, Indian investigative agencies believed they had found the missing link between IM and the AuT when Haider Ali, a suspected IM terrorist under detention, provided details regarding the joint training of IM and AuT operatives at Pakistani Taliban training centers (Times of India, May 30). Ali is believed to have been involved in multiple bombings at the October 26, 2013 BJP rally at Patna (Bihar) and to have had ties with the proscribed Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) led by Islamist Safdar Nagori.

Even if information about AuT’s actual strength and leadership remains sketchy, the emergence of this organization indicates that India has become a prime target for transnational terrorist groups. With its large Muslim population (the second largest in the world, after Indonesia), India presents a massive source of manpower for Islamist groups like al-Qaeda or the AuT that are ready to work closely with homegrown terrorist groups such as IM or SIMI. The myriad threats from domestic terrorist groups in India have now spread well beyond the usual Kashmir-centric groups fighting for the “liberation” of that region.

Animesh Roul is the Executive Director of Research at the New Delhi-based Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (SSPC).