Mumbai: India-born Asim Umar, better known by Indian intelligence agencies as Sanaul Haq and the chief of the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), was killed during a joint US-Afghan raid in a Taliban hideout in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on September 23, 2019.
However, the news of the killing was announced on October 8, 2019. Though, Al-Qaeda is yet to confirm his death.
Before he became one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, Umar was the author of several best-selling jihadist fantasies.
And before he became Asim Umar, he was Sana-ul-Haq, a peasant’s son from Uttar Pradesh, who disappeared from his home in 1995 to begin his new life in Pakistan.
In September 2014, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of the AQIS to take fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh and designated Umar as the head of the unit in a video message.
Umar, who was born as Sana-Ul Haq in Uttar Pradesh’s Sambhal, reportedly graduated from Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband in 1991. In 1995, Haq broke all contact with his family and simply disappeared.
He left India to join terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and remained in Pakistan and Afghanistan. During his time in the neighbouring country, he continued his study, first in Karachi at the Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia and later at the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - two seminaries that several jihadi and Taliban personnel have historically studied in.
He translated jihadi literature from Pashto into Urdu and authored at least four books which reflected his views on jihad. The Al-Qaeda soon recognised Umar’s skills as a jihadi propagandist and his extensive connections with a network of jihadi organisations. He was often characterised as an excellent orator and a highly knowledgeable ideologue – two traits that eventually convinced the Al-Qaeda that he would make an effective leader.
After becoming the chief, Umar used his contacts in Deoband to set up an AQIS base. Indian counter-intelligence officials said Umar’s oratory skills and grasp of jihadi literature brought him close to the top Qaeda leadership.
Through online videos, he motivated many Indian youths. The National Investigative Agency in a chargesheet filed early this year claimed Umar’s radical sermons were used to motivate the youth. Such videos were seized during NIA’s search in Amroha.
AQIS made multiple attempts to expand operations in India. However, the group met with little success as dozen of operatives, including Sambhal resident Mohd Asif, Abdur Rehman and Abdul Sami, were arrested from UP, Odisha and Jharkhand.
Another attempt was made to establish AQIS in south India and a group called Base Movement formed in 2014 claimed responsibility for a series of blasts in courts in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra in 2016.
Umar then made a direct appeal to Indian Muslims to “follow the example of lone wolves in Europe and kill administrative and police officers in India”. His 15-minute speech in Urdu, ‘No to the Slogan of Disbelief’, was dubbed in Arabic, Bengali and English.
To provoke and motivate Muslims, Umar alleged Hindus imposed their faith on Muslims in India and tried to break the foundations of Islam by emphasising that the country was worthy of worship.