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Friday, July 14, 2006

India: Al Qaeda launches in Kashmir

Srinagar, 14 July (AKI/Asian Age) - A new militant group has been launched in Kashmir, calling itself "al-Qaeda Jammu and Kashmir", but the intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities here have no clue on whether it is actually a wing of the organisation led by Osama bin Laden. Significantly, the launch - made known in a phone call to a local news agency on Thursday afternoon - was announced just two days after terrorists struck with impunity in Mumbai and Srinagar, exploding a series of bombs that resulted in the death of over 200 people.

The 13 July is also a date of great historical importance for Jammu and Kashmir because it is annually observed as "martyrs' day" throughout the state and by Kashmiri people worldwide in commemoration of when in 1931, the troops of autocratic Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh had gunned down 22 Muslims outside Srinagar central jail, an incident which heralded the "freedom struggle" in the then princely state under British India. The Kashmir Valley was shut on Thursday to mark the occasion.

While "Al-Qaeda Jammu and Kashmir" said its objectives and philosophy would be spelt out shortly, it called upon Indian Muslims to take up "jihad". In a statement, Abu Abd al-Rehman al-Ansari, who has been appointed chief of the outfit, said he was "encouraged" by the "success" of those behind the Mumbai blasts, and went on to justify the strikes as "a reaction to what is happening to minorities, specially Muslims, in India."

The launch was publicised in a telephone call to the Srinagar-based news agency Current News Service (CNS) on Thursday. The caller identified himself as Abu al-Hadeed, spokesperson of the new outfit, and quoted its chief Abu al-Ansari as saying: "We'll come to you again soon with the objectives and the philosophy of Al-Qaeda Jammu and Kashmir."

The telephone call was received by Rashid Rahi, editor of CNS, at 12.15 pm. He said: "The caller, speaking in chaste Urdu, said that he had received a statement written in Arabic and that he was reading its Urdu translation out to me." The caller did not say where the original statement had come from or whether the new group had any connection or relationship with Osama bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda or not. "He did not say that, nor did I ask him," Mr Rahi told this newspaper. "If the new outfit is linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, it is a serious development," said a senior intelligence official here.

Another officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the veracity of the announcement was being worked upon. He said: "We have to see whether this was a hoax or whether a new outfit has really been launched and, more important, whether it has anything to do with the original Al-Qaeda." The official added that investigations were already on to trace the number and location of the telephone from which the call to CNS had been made. It was known that the call had been made from a landline and not a mobile phone.

Union home ministry officials have blamed the Mumbai blasts on the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Students' Islamic Movement of India (Simi). The authorities here also insist that it was the Lashkar which had been solely responsible for the series of grenade attacks against domestic tourists in Srinagar on Tuesday, shortly before the mayhem in Mumbai. In fact, the Jammu and Kashmir police has announced a cash reward of Rs 5 lakhs for anyone who provides information on the whereabouts of the alleged mastermind of the Srinagar blasts, Mudassir Gujri alias Raju alias Mansoor, said to be a Lashkar operative.
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