A video that appears to show al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri calling for the creation of an al-Qaeda branch on the Indian subcontinent circulated Wednesday. It was unclear when the video was actually filmed. Zawahiri has not been seen in months.
In the video, Zawahiri stresses that the new India branch would be under the authority of Mullah Omar, a Taliban leader to whom al-Qaeda is technically subordinate. Zawahiri also named Maulana Asim Umar the head of the new franchise. Asim Umar is a Muslim cleric in India who is known to be close to al-Qaeda’s leadership.
The exact significance of the announcement — including when it was filmed and how it will impact al-Qaeda’s network of affiliate groups — remains unclear. In the video, Zawahiri says that the plan to create the India branch has been in the works for two years.
In recent months, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has threatened Al Qaeda’s status as the leading global Islamic terrorist group. ISIS, which now controls parts of Iraq and Syria, started as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Then, after internal differences, Zawahiri formally cut ties with ISIS this spring. The al-Qaeda leader has since remained silent on the rise of ISIS, raising speculation over how al-Qaeda, and its global network of affiliates, will respond and react to the growing competition.