Kashmir Has A New Insurgent Group: Al-Qaeda

Burhan Wani, left, and his successor, Zakir Musa, right, the new head of Al-Qaeda's cell in Kashmir. Twitter

Al-Qaeda has announced a new group in the contested Himalayan territory of Kashmir, and named as chief of the cell a young but well-known face of Kashmiri militancy.

The jihadi group's propaganda arm known as the Global Islamic Media Front reported on Thursday that 23-year-old Zakir Musa would head up the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind.

Kashmir is a region that both India and Pakistan lay claim to and where militants have waged an insurgency against Indian rule in the region. It has divided both countries since 1947.

Separatists have railed against the influence of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, claiming that its bid to remove Indian rule is about Kashmiri self-determination and not imposing Sharia law in the territory.

Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) said the Al-Qaeda announcement was an Indian bid to paint the insurgency as about terrorism rather than a "freedom struggle" and its claims to the territory.

Musa has risen to be one of the top militant leaders in Kashmir after the death of his predecessor of the rebel group known as Hizbul Mujahideen.

In April 2016, Musa condemned nationalist movements in Kashmir. "I see that many people in Kashmir are engaged in a war of nationalism, which is forbidden in Islam," Musa said.

He said the battle against Indian rule should "not be for the sake of Kashmir," but "exclusively for Islam so that Sharia [law] is established here," according to The Guardian.

The new unit in the territory marked an "ideological shift," Kashmir police chief S. P. Vaid told the AFP news agency.

"Earlier, people were fighting for something different," he said.

"For us, whoever picks up a gun is a terrorist. Musa is a terrorist. Organization doesn't matter. We'll see, we'll face it."

In 2014, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri created a new Indian group known as Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, calling on Muslims in South Asia to join "the caravan of jihad."

But it did not rival ISIS, which was seizing and consolidating territory across Iraq and Syria, and rose to prominence as the world's most-feared jihadi group.