Although India is home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population, al-Qaeda has so far had only a limited presence in the country. But last week, India’s intelligence agencies reportedly were put on high alert after the terrorist group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video announcing the establishment of a new al-Qaeda branch on the Indian subcontinent and warning of additional jihadist activity in the region.
Al-Zawahiri also warned that al-Qaeda will be ramping up its efforts to recruit and train Indian Muslims to fight for the group. Al-Qaeda may hope to exploit the sometimes tense relationship between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority, which makes up 14% of the country’s population of 1.2 billion, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center estimate. In his video, al-Zawahiri specifically addresses Muslims residing in the Indian state of Gujarat, which in 2002 was the site of the worst religious riots since the partition of the subcontinent.
In 2008, shooting attacks in Mumbai killed 166 people and wounded 300 others over the course of four days. The attacks were carried out by the members of the Islamic extremist Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group mostly operating in the Indian subcontinent with main goal of liberating Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, from Indian control. Lashkar-e-Taiba is also held responsible for the 200o attack on the Red Fort, a historical landmark in New Delhi.
A 2013 poll we conducted of 40 countries showed that, globally, Indians are among the most likely to say that Islamic extremist groups pose a major threat to their country. Two-in-three Indians said that Islamic extremist groups are a major security concern. Worries about Islamic extremist groups were about the same in Senegal, where 67% said Islamic extremist groups are a major threat. Only in Italy (74%), France (71%) and Lebanon (70%) did a slightly higher proportion of adults share the view that Islamic extremist groups are a serious national threat.