Al Qaeda's shadowy new 'emir' in South Asia handed tough job

Al Qaeda's shadowy new 'emir' in South Asia handed tough job
Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location, in this still image taken from video uploaded on a social media website June 8, 2011.

MULTAN Pakistan/ISLAMABAD - Pakistani militant Asim Umar has been handed a very tough job.

Thrust into the limelight after being named leader of al Qaeda's newly created South Asian wing, he has been entrusted with reviving the network's fortunes at a time when Islamic State is generating grisly headlines and luring recruits.

Little is known about the man whose thinking was shaped in radicalized seminaries and madrassas of Pakistan and who will now spearhead al Qaeda's activities from Afghanistan to Myanmar.

In a video address aired last week, the group's chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, named him as the "emir" of a new branch of the network that masterminded the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Interviews with militant and intelligence sources reveal that Umar, thought to be in his mid-forties, has a reputation as an Islamist ideologue rather than a fighter, and is known in South and Central Asian Islamist circles as an intellectual and excellent orator.

One jihadist source in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border who knew Umar personally said that Zawahri first caught sight of his talents around the time of the death of Osama bin Laden in a secret US raid in 2011.

"After the killing of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda's new chief al-Zawahri started the reorganisation of al Qaeda, with its main focus on South Asia," the source said.

"Al Qaeda started recruiting and training fighters in Afghanistan and now Maulana Asim Umar has been appointed as South Asia chief. ... He has strong connections with Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan."

Illustrating Umar's close ties to the top al Qaeda command, the source said it was Umar who facilitated bin Laden's move to a safehouse in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he lived undetected for years before US forces finally detected him.

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