WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of State deemed al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) a “foreign terrorist organization” (FTO) and its leader Asim Umar a “specially designated global terrorist” the day before the attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that AQIS and Umar are actively engaged in terrorism,” notes the State Department (also known as State), in a statement announcing the designations.
The designations come as al-Qaeda affiliates flourish in Yemen and Syria, reaching unprecedented strength, despite Obama administration claims that the group has been decimated. Even core al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan is growing stronger, enhancing its relationship with the Taliban.
AQIS is active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, and Bangladesh, where as many as nine jihadists stormed a popular cafe in the diplomatic area of the capital, Dhaka, and held as many as 40 hostages Friday, killing 20, including one U.S. citizen.
At least four police officers were killed (including some who succumbed to their injuries at the hospital) and at least 26 others wounded in a gunfight with the terrorists, who threw explosives at the police in the midst of the battle. Some officers are critically injured, so the fatalities may increase.
The attack comes on the same day that a Hindu temple worker was hacked to death with a machete while picking flowers, marking the latest in a spate of grisly murders that have disturbed the country in the past year and have been linked to jihadist groups, including AQIS.
SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites, reports that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the restaurant attack and killing the Hindu temple worker, as well as a Buddhist, all on Friday.
ISIS has assumed responsibility for more than half of the 48 killings in Bangladesh that have been blamed on jihadists in the last 18 months. AQIS has claimed responsibility for most of the others.
Both terrorist groups have been linked to the hacking of victims with machetes in Bangladesh. AQIS leader Umar claimed responsibility for the February 2015 murder of Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen and blogger who was hacked to death in the Muslim-majority country.
State confirmed Umar’s allegation in a statement announcing the designations of AQIS and its leader as terrorists and added:
The consequences of this designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions with AQIS and Umar and the freezing of all of their property and interests in the United States, or which come within the United States or the possession or control of U.S. persons. In addition, the consequences of AQIS’ FTO designation include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to the organization.
Al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of AQIS in a video address in September 2014. The group is led by Asim Umar, a former member of U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Harakat ul-Mujahidin. AQIS claimed responsibility for the September 6, 2014 attack on a naval dockyard in Karachi, in which militants attempted to hijack a Pakistani Navy frigate. AQIS has also claimed responsibility for the murders of activists and writers in Bangladesh, including that of U.S. citizen Avijit Roy, U.S. Embassy local employee Xulhaz Mannan, and of Bangladeshi nationals Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, Ahmed Rajib Haideer, and A.K.M. Shafiul Islam.
The deadly incidents on Friday are just the latest evidence of the escalation of militant violence in Bangladesh targeting writers, bloggers, academics, activists, liberals, atheists, foreigners, gays, and religious minorities — despite a nationwide government crackdown on militants that has resulted in the arrest of more than 14,000 people.
State failed to mention that AQIS reported directly to the leader of the Afghan Taliban, reports The Long War Journal (LWJ).
In Bangladesh, the prominent local militant group Ansar-al-Islam has pledged allegiance to AQIS.
“We now have competition between al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Bangladesh, which means that the jihadist pool is deep enough for both organizations to operate in the country,” said Thomas Joscelyn, senior editor at The Long War Journal, according to Reuters.
“Although al Qaeda’s core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has been degraded, elements continue to seek safe haven on both sides of the border to regenerate and conduct attack planning,” acknowledges the Pentagon in a recent report.
“The continued development of an al Qaeda affiliate in the region, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), highlights the dynamic nature of the terrorist militant landscape in the region, posing risks to the mission and to U.S. interests.”