India has issued a security alert in several states after an announcement by al-Qaeda of the formation of an Indian branch of the group.
In a video message, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said “al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent” would “raise the flag of jihad” across South Asia.
In the 55-minute video posted online, Zawahiri pledged renewed loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Correspondents say this is an apparent snub to Islamic State (IS) militants.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met senior intelligence officials to discuss new security measures and to brief the prime minister.
India’s intelligence and security services are studying the Zawahiri announcement video, which experts said appeared to be a reaction to IS’s growing dominance.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the nominal leader of al-Qaeda, is a 63-year-old former Egyptian eye surgeon said to be long on words and short on charm.
For over a decade he has dodged drone strikes and hit squads by hiding out in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But apart from issuing occasionally long-winded treatises and videos, his critics say he has allowed al-Qaeda to wither while Islamic State (IS) has grown into everything al-Qaeda tried – and failed – to be.
While al-Qaeda’s remaining leaders hide away in farms and flats in Pakistan, IS has seized and held actual territory.
It has a de facto capital, Raqqa, a disciplined command structure, an estimated $2bn (£1.2bn) war chest.
It has the world’s attention and despite its sadistic atrocities, it is enjoying a surge in recruitment that Zawahiri could only dream about.Online reaction to Zawahiri’s message
On social media, Islamic State (IS) supporters mocked Ayman al-Zawahiri’s announcement. The scorn felt by IS followers towards al-Qaeda is nothing new, but their derision surged after the declaration, indicating the rivalry between the two groups.
One pro-IS Twitter user taunted al-Qaeda for opening “outlets in India” like McDonald’s while others felt Zawahiri was “sowing sedition” and trying to remain in charge of all jihadists as their “caliph”.
Others jeered Zawahiri for being “America’s man,” saying the United States and Pakistan had “liquidated all AQ’s commanders except him”. Others likened him to being the “spearhead in the crusader effort against the caliphate,” noting he avoided clashing with “Shia Iran” despite allegations of discrimination against Sunni Muslims there.
Twitter users backing al-Qaeda praised the declaration, highlighting the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma. Those opposed to both groups tweeted that the announcement signalled further bloodshed and division among Muslims and a new Western-led war against them.