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Global jihadi network Al Qaeda on Thursday officially announced the establishment of its unit in Jammu and Kashmir, naming former Hizbul Mujahideen militant Zakir Musa as its chief in the troubled state.
The announcement was made by the Global Islamic Media Front, a media wing of Al Qaeda and its allied jihadist groups across the world.
The Al Qaeda online propaganda wing disseminated a statement on social media, declaring Musa, a close aide of slain militant commander Burhan Wani, as its leader in Kashmir.
"After the heroic martyrdom of Burhan Wani, the jihad in Kashmir has entered a stage of awakening. Firmly holding the flag of jihad in their hands, Muslims in Kashmir have committed to retaliate with gun every aggression by tyrant Indian invaders," the statement said.
It said jihad with the aid of Allah was the only way to "liberate Kashmir".
"For this goal, a new movement of jihad has been founded by the companions of Wani under the leadership of Zakir Musa," the statement said. The new Al Qaeda cell has been named Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind.
Though there have been speculations earlier that Al Qaeda was making inroads in Kashmir, this is the first official confirmation from the terror network about its presence in the state.
Earlier, a 2014 video had called on "brothers in Kashmir" to wage jihad against India.
Though political separatist leaders and militant commanders have been denying a link between Kashmir militancy and jihadi movements like Al Qaeda and Islamic State but Musa, who succeeded Wani after his July 2016 killing, in an April video message made his intentions clear.
Musa asked Kashmiris not to "fall for nationalism" as it was a sin in Islam.
"I see many people in Kashmir are engaged in a war of nationalism, which is forbidden in Islam. The fight in Jammu and Kashmir should not be for the sake of the state. It should be exclusively for Islam so that sharia is established here."
The 23-year-old militant also threatened to kill Hurriyat leaders if they spoke for nationalism and deny that the struggle in Kashmir was for the establishment of strict Islamic code.
The Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest group of local militants, condemned his statement saying they have nothing to do with his Islamist assertions.
Interestingly, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Salahuddin, who is based in Pakistan, released a video statement on Wednesday urging Kashmiris "not to join any global jihadi movement".
"Some of our friends are playing in the hands of our enemy and trying to create divide between people and their leadership. Our movement is an indigenous movement. The freedom movement of Jammu and Kashmir has no worldwide agenda, no links with organisations like Islamic State or Al Qaeda.
"Such organisations have no role in Kashmir," Salahuddin said in a five-minute video clip.