In an effort to combat the spread of terrorism, the U.S. Department of State has added al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) to its official terrorist list.
In addition to listing AQIS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), State also added the branch’s leader, Asim Umar, to its list of foreign terrorists.
“Today’s action notifies the US public and the international community that AQIS and Umar are actively engaged in terrorism,” said the State Department in a statement. “Designations of terrorist individuals and groups expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and result in denial of access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist or complement the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and other governments”
AQIS serves as al-Qaida’s official branch in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. According to the State Department, the organization was officially announced by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri via a video statement in September, 2014. That said, Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal, has noted the group was in the process of being formed two years prior to al-Zawahiri’s announcement.
Prior to serving as the leader of AQIS, Umar belonged to Harakat ul-Mujahidin, a Foreign Terrorist Organization based in Pakistan that operates in Kashmir.
AQIS has claimed responsibility for several attacks in its area of operations in the last two years. Most notably, the group was responsible for an attack on a navy dockyard in the Pakistani city of Karachi in which AQIS militants attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate.
While AQIS’ attacks have been comparably lower profile than those of ISIS or other al-Qaida affiliates, they have still proven deadly. The group claimed responsibility for several of the attacks on journalists and bloggers in Bangladesh, some of which involved hacking victims to death with machetes and cleavers. One of the Bangladeshi victims was Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen.
While State’s designation will give officials new tools with which to fight AQIS, Roggio believes U.S. officials consistently underestimate the terrorist group.
“In addition to underestimating al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan, US officials have maintained for years that the jihadist group has been weakened in Pakistan due to drone strikes, and that no more than 400 operatives were in country,” wrote Roggio in a post for the Long War Journal Thursday.
AQIS currently maintains a significant base of operations in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, a massive metropolis of 20 million people. The group has entrenched itself in various Islamic schools across the country, recruiting and radicalizing the local population.
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