Rising sectarian attacks in India might help drive support to al-Qaeda, a top US expert has told lawmakers, noting that the terror group is trying to reassert itself in the Indian subcontinent.
"Rising sectarian attacks in India might help drive support to al-Qaida," Katherine Zimmerman, research fellow, American Enterprise Institute, a top American think-tank, told members of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence during a Congressional hearing on al-Qaida threat.
"Al-Qaeda reconsolidated in the Maghreb and Sahel after the rise of ISIS. It remains embedded in the insurgencies, and it is looking to reassert itself in the Indian subcontinent through Punjab," she said.
"The senior leadership is no longer concentrated in Afghanistan-Pakistan, nor is it synonymous with what the Obama administration once dubbed al-Qaida core.
Al-Qaida's senior leadership is found today in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond," Zimmerman said.
"The old leadership continues to provide strategic guidance, Ayman al-Zawahiri issues overall direction to the network, and leadership attrition has compelled al-Qaida to reveal a deeper bench than we knew it was there before," she said.
Responding to questions, Zimmerman said it is important to closely monitor the situation in the Indian subcontinent, which is increasingly restive.
"Recognising that we have key interests in the broader stability of the region," she said.
"I think there's no question it's a concern if you look at the increasing levels of violence that have been perpetrated by groups associated with al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent, as well as ISIS in Bangladesh," said Seth Jones from the Rand Foundation in response to another question.
"We have a range of the conditions. We've already talked about on this committee, on this panel, weak governance, economic challenges, opportunities for fighters, and its proximity to both Pakistan and Afghanistan active war zones that make Bangladesh of concern," he said.
Jones said the al-Qaeda core has clearly been weakened.
"I think there's been some movement of some of the key people from Pakistan into Afghanistan to take advantage of some territory that's been taken by the Taliban and other groups," he said.
"I would say there's a fair amount of autonomy that exists with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. There's still some strategic guidance, I would say, from senior leaders in South Asia, including Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
"Al-Shabaab, very concerning links between its intelligence and external operations unit the Amniyat and Al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula," he told lawmakers.