New al Qaeda branch in South Asia launches first assault

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Story highlights

  • New al Qaeda branch infiltrates Pakistan's navy and tries to hijack vessel
  • The plot included plans to launch rocket attacks on U.S. ships in the Indian Ocean, authorities say
  • Attack was first by the newly formed al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent
A new regional branch of al Qaeda infiltrated Pakistan's navy and tried to hijack a vessel earlier this month to launch rocket attacks on American ships in the Indian Ocean, a site that monitors terror groups said.
It was the first major offensive by the newly formed al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. The SITE Institute's monitoring service said the group's spokesman, Usama Mahmoud, on Twitter compared the Pakistani naval officers involved in the attempted hijacking to Nadal Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist convicted of killing 13 people at Fort Hood.
Hasan was sentenced to death by a military court for the November 5, 2009, rampage, which authorities said the American-born Muslim carried out because he did not want to deploy to Afghanistan to fight other Muslims.
Mahmoud's tweet on Wednesday said the group sought to avenge the "bloodshed of Muslims" from Afghanistan to Syria as well as what it called U.S. control and superiority over "ours straits, our channels and our waters."
The September 6 hijacking attempt of the Pakastani navy vessel PNS Zulfiqar in Karachi ended after a fire fight in which three attackers were killed and seven others arrested, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told parliament on September 10. A naval officer was killed.
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"We cannot rule out inside help in this attack because, without it, the miscreants could not breach security," Asif said.
A Pakistani navy source said the investigation is still under way and the attack could be linked to any network.
According to SITE, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed credit for the attack and even posted a picture and schematic of the Pakistani naval ship on Twitter.
"These mujahideen had taken control of the Pakistani ship, and they were advancing towards the American fleet when the Pakistani army stopped them," said the tweet quoted by SITE.
"As a result, the mujahideen, the lions of Allah and benefactors of the Ummah, sacrificed their lives for Allah, and the Pakistani soldiers spoiled their hereafter by giving up their lives in defense of the enemies of the Ummah the Americans," the group said on Twitter.
After the attack, three naval officials were arrested during a raid on the outskirts of the city of Quetta near the Afghan border. The officials said the suspects were trying to escape to Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in an effort to reclaim relevancy, announced the creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, led by Asim Umar, which will include at least one faction of the Pakistan Taliban.
According to a translation by the SITE Institute, Mahmoud said the group's basic goals included jihad against America, supporting the Taliban and establishing a caliphate (implicitly rejecting the Caliphate claimed by ISIS leader Bakr al-Baghdadi).
The announcement steps up the philosophical battle between al Qaeda and ISIS about how the dream of the caliphate, to which Muslims the world over would owe allegiance, is achieved.
Mahmoud spoke of "a caliphate where the emirs are proud in their closeness to the honest scholars... a caliphate in whose shadow even the disbelieving people of dhimma (non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state) have a life of safety and security."
The last condition was clearly aimed at ISIS and its merciless campaign against non-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims in both Iraq and Syria. Not to be outdone, ISIS' propaganda machine recently posted photographs showing residents of the Iraqi city of Nineveh enjoying "prosperity... under the shade of the caliphate."
Al-Zawahiri may be counting on the withdrawal of most U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan as his best chance of reviving al Qaeda's fortunes.