ISLAMABAD: Maulana Asim Umar, who has been appointed by al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri as the head of the group’s India branch, is held in ‘equally high respect’ by both local and foreign militants, say Pakistani militants who claim to have worked with him.
Urdu-speaking Umar was previously an active member of Harkatul Mujahideen – a banned outfit which has been fighting against Indian authorities in Indian Kashmir. According to militant leaders familiar with him, he once headed a Harkat training center in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Much earlier, Umar, who is said to be in his mid-40s, was a teacher at a religious school in Karachi. He is said to speak fluent Arabic, English and Pashto.
Umar developed ties with al Qaeda and other militant outfits during his time with Harkatul Mujahideen, his colleagues say. “Umar has been very close to al-Qaeda since it was launched,” a former member of the Harkat told The Express Tribune.
Harkat once hosted deceased al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden when he was living in Afghanistan, a former Harkat leader says. The group also arranged bin Laden’s first press conference in Afghanistan’s Khost province in 1988. Al Qaeda was formally launched at this press conference.
Two militant leaders said Umar has earned the trust of Arab militants and was highly respected by Pakistani, Afghan and foreign militants.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014.