London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Al-Qaeda’s announcement of the establishment of a new franchise in the Indian subcontinent is not a response to the challenge posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an expert in Islamist fundamentalist groups has said.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Director of the London-based Al Maqrizi Center Egyptian Islamist Dr. Hani Al-Sibai said: “The announcement of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was not a hasty decision but the result of two years’ of continuous efforts and discussions between various groups.”
The decision comes amid renewed competition between ISIS and Al-Qaeda, with ISIS scoring major advances in Iraq, Syria and beyond. ISIS now appears to be seeking to expand its operations beyond the Middle East, including attempting to recruit Al-Qaeda members in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last week, ISIS reportedly launched a media campaign in Pashto and Dari—the official languages of Afghanistan—in order to recruit new members and expand the group’s base of operations. Pamphlets were anonymously distributed to Afghan journalists earlier this month introducing ISIS to Afghans as Daulat-e-Islamia or the Islamic State.
Although Al-Qaeda is under threat from ISIS, London-based Islamist expert Dr. Hani Al-Sibai denied that the announcement of the establishment of AQIS was meant to serve as a quick-fire response.
“The announcement of AQIS is not a reaction to ISIS or a concern about its expansion in the Indian subcontinent. Over the past two years, there have been ongoing talks among longstanding jihadist fighting groups across the Indian subcontinent, including in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Kashmir, Pakistan Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere,” he added.
Al-Qaeda was working towards establishing a franchise in the Indian subcontinent at a time when ISIS was still affiliated to the movement, while Al-Qaeda could now use AQIS to reconfirm its presence as the world’s pre-eminent terrorist organization.
“AQIS can be considered to be the largest branch of Al-Qaeda in the world, as it contains a number of groups and movements comprising thousands of members who are now all part of a single entity under the leadership of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, as Emir of Al-Qaeda,” he added.