Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind: Lingering Al Qaeda influence in Kashmir and Beyond
In July 2021, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), the Al Qaeda linked Kashmir jihadist group, came to the limelight when several suspected militant members were arrested in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (UP). This was a significant breakthrough as, for the first time, suspected AGH operatives were arrested beyond their usual operating ground, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Interrogations have found that detained militants planned to carry out suicide bombings in different parts of the state. The police had identified them as Shakeel, Mohammad Mustakeem, Mohammad Moid, Minhaz Ahmed and Maseeruddin. Intriguingly, they are all related through a family connection, and the case is under further investigation. (Indian Express, July 23)
Two arrested accused, Minhaz and Masiruddin, have reportedly confessed about their communication with Al Qaeda and AGH linked terrorist Umar Al-Mandi, a nom de guerre (also reported as Umar Halmandi). Umar Al-Mandi is the handler who instructed them from an unidentified location in Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Umar Halmandi reportedly studied in Deoband Islamic seminary in Uttar Pradesh and was originally from the state. He went to Pakistan in 1999 and has never returned to India since then. Other than subversive activities, the accused were also asked to recruiting and radicalising people. (News18.com)
AGH was established in Kashmir in September 2017. The founding statement announced that the catalyst for the formation of Ansar Ghazwat ul- Hind was based on the July 2016 death of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen group. Although the AGH had a strong presence in Kashmir and used the region as a haven, it has a pan-India jihadist vision. Zakir Musa, the founder of the AGH in Kashmir, said in July 2018 that “We will take this jihad to the last corner of India and, this...will be the source of victory of Islam in Kashmir and India...”.
In October 2019, the J&K police officially declared that it has wiped out the AGH from the state entirely with the death of Hameed Lone (Hameed Lelhari or Haroon Abbas) on October 22, 2019. Hameed Lone, a native of Pulwama, was also a member of the Islamist outfit Jamiat Ahle Hadith. After the split from Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Hameed Lone joined hands with Musa in 2017. Hameed Lone took the rein of AGH following the death of Zakir Musa, the founder of AGH in Kashmir and a renegade Hizbul militant. He was killed in an encounter in May 2019. To note, Musa joined the terror ranks of Hizbul Mujahideen of Kashmir in 2013. He was keen to establish an Islamic State in the Kashmir Valley and never accepted mainstream separatist group Hurriyat’s approach, seeing Kashmir as a political dispute instead of a religious struggle. After the October 2019 death of Hameed Lone, Ghazi Khalid Ibrahim was appointed as new interim commander and Abu Bakr Shopiani and Umar Mansour as his deputies. (IBTimes)
Al-Hurr is the official media wing of AGH, and Abu Ubaidah is the spokesperson of AGH. Also, AGH releases propaganda material under another media outlet called Al-Sindh. Al Qaeda also shares the press releases of AGH through the Global Islamic Media Front ( GIMF). In July 2021, on the eve of Eid al-Adha, Ghazi Khalid Ibrahim released a statement (in Urdu and Arabic) praising the Afghan Taliban as a role model for jihadists in Kashmir. The same month, AGH released a new propaganda video that portrayed the Pakistani government as a bigger enemy to jihadists than India and accused it of betrayal. The message by Mustafa Abdul Kareem titled ‘Why We Rejected Pakistan’ urged jihadists in Kashmir to abandon all relations with Islamabad and join AGH Kashmir.
AGH attempted to expand its networks beyond the J&K to the hinterlands of India in 2019. The same year, AGH suffered a huge leadership loss following the deaths of some of its top commanders. AGH received a body blow again in April 2021 when the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) had killed several members in the Shopian and Pulwama districts of Kashmir. The slain members were Hafiz Muzamil, Basit Bakhshi, Yunus Khanday, Kashif Mir, Adil Lone, Zahid Koka, Imtiyaz Ahmad Shah and Shaeed Kashif Mir.
The members of the AGH in Kashmir are operating in tandem with Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Information shared by the nine suspected Al Qaeda operatives from Bengal and Kerala in September 2020 suggested a close operational linkage. Before arresting these accused, the NIA had used its IT cell to trace phone calls and WhatsApp video calls between suspects. The AGH was also in touch with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The NIA had arrested Tania Parveen, a college student from Baduria in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, in March 2020. Parveen had links with the LeT, Pakistan. The nine suspected Al Qaeda operatives, arrested in September last year, were in touch with Parveen. These linkages with LeT or Al Qaeda notwithstanding, the arrests of AGH cadres in UP reflects its pan-India jihad programme.
The brief is part of South Asia Conflict Monitor, August 2021