India-born chief of Qaeda arm killed in US-Afghan raid

Deeptiman Tiwary
Asim Umer was killed in Helmand, Afghanistan. ANI

The leader of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) was killed last month in a joint operation by US and Afghan forces, said Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) Tuesday. Maulana Asim Umer, known to Indian security agencies as Sanaul Haq from Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh, was appointed the head of AQIS by Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri in 2014.

Afghan agencies claimed Umer to be a Pakistani since he was carrying a Pakistani passport, said sources in the Indian establishment. Umer went missing from India in 1995, three years after the Babri demolition, and is suspected to have been in Pakistan since then.

The NDS Tuesday tweeted: “NDS can now confirm the death of Asim omar, leader of #Al-Qaeda in the #Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), in a joint US-Afghan raid on a Taliban compound in Musa Qala district of Helmand province on Sep. 23.”

Identifying Umer as “a #Pakistani citizen”, the NDS said he “was #killed along with six other AQIS members, most of them Pakistani”.

It said these included “Raihan, Umar’s courier to Ayman #Al-Zawahiri.” NDS claimed they had been embedded inside the Taliban compound in the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala.

The Indian Express on December 17, 2015, first reported that the AQIS chief was an Indian from UP’s Sambhal and detailed his indoctrination in the international Jihadi network.

Umar was identified by Indian agencies after the questioning of Sambhal resident Mohammad Asif and Cuttack-based cleric Abdul Rehman. The duo was arrested in 2014-15 by Delhi and Odisha police.

Delhi Police Special Commissioner Arvind Deep had then said that Asif, who had grown up with Umar, travelled to Pakistan through Iran in 2012, along with two other Uttar Pradesh men — whose identities have been withheld — to train at a jihadist camp in Miranshah, in Pakistan’s north-west. There, he had said, Asif received only ideological instruction, because of ill health, before being sent home in October 2014, to recruit more Indians.

Educated at the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary at Deoband, from where he graduated in 1991, Umar was allegedly involved in jihadist circles following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. He disappeared from Sambhal in 1995, severing contact with his family.

Umar was allegedly mentored by Nizamuddin Shamzai, a cleric closely linked to the Taliban, who once bragged of being treated as a “state guest” in Mullah Muhammad Omar’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

In the late 1990s, after finishing his studies in Karachi, Umar is believed to have joined Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil’s Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, teaching briefly at the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania seminary in Peshawar, and serving at the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s training camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Following the 9/11 attacks, sources said, Umar moved back to Karachi, living from 2004-2006 at the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s office in Haroonabad. Sources said he began turning towards al-Qaeda in the summer of 2007, after General Pervez Musharraf ordered the storming of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, a seminary run by Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia alumnus Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi.

He made contact with Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, a top jihadist with close links to al-Qaeda. Incidentally, jailed 26/11 perpetrator David Headley had told the FBI of a “Karachi project” run by a Kashmiri, with plans to target India.

In 2013, Umar delivered the first exhortations specifically targeting Muslims in India - the first of its kind in global jihadist writing. He invoked anti-Muslim communal violence in India, saying “the Red Fort in front of the mosque cries tears of blood at your slavery and mass killing at the hands of the Hindus”.