NEW DELHI: While India was spared of any attack directly masterminded, or even aided by Osama himself, it did find mention in his messages suggesting that the terror ideologue looked upon India as an enemy and a potential target. The alliance between al-Qaida and Lashkar-e-Taiba, India's main terror threat, suggests that Osama had evolved into more than being just an inspirational figure for several terror groups targeting India.
The links between anti-India terror groups and Osama's jihadis have been known at least since 1998 when members of Harkat-ul-Ansar, a terrorist group focused on Kashmir, training alongside al-Qaida members in Afghanistan were killed in a US missile attack. In fact, the very first reference to India by Osama came in May 1998 when he said in a press conference at Khost in Afghanistan that he would love to join the jihad in Kashmir if the Pakistani authorities allowed him. Osama's answer came in response to a question from a Pakistani journalist. In the same conference, he announced the formation of International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the US and Israel.
This was followed by a long pause on India, even though his No.2 Ayman Al Zawahiri regularly spewed venom not just against India but also Hindus. In an April 2006 audio message, the emir of al-Qaida broke his silence to speak of a "Crusader-Zionist-Hindu conspiracy" against Muslims and also referred to Kashmir.
"Meanwhile, a UN resolution passed more than half a century ago gave Muslim Kashmir the liberty of choosing independence from India. George Bush, the leader of the Crusaders' campaign, announced a few days ago that he will order his converted agent Musharraf to shut down the Kashmir mujahideen camps, thus affirming that it is a Zionist-Hindu war against Muslims," he said in the message which sought to highlight conspiracies against Muslims all over the world. According to security expert B Raman, the message lacked focus.
It was never established why he made the remark in the context of East Timor's independence fromIndonesia.
Much before 9/11, in November 1998, the Army claimed to have seized from militants, after an encounter in the Pir Panjal ranges, some cards with messages from Osama describing India as enemy No.1.
It is a safe surmise that Osama's dependence on Pakistan for his survival may have forced him to buy more heavily into Islamabad's designs against India.
A Wikileaks cable in December last year revealed that Osama was willing to divert $20 million to support groups active in Kashmir and also that he asserted that the jihad would not suffer from lack of funds. In a meeting with US officials, joint secretary (cabinet secretariat) Sharad Kumar stated that Indian intelligence had transcripts of pre-9/11 meetings between Osama and Taliban chief Mullah Omar during which terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir was discussed.
That India was an al-Qaida target became obvious in 2007 after 9/11 accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed revealed in his testimony at Guantanamo Bay that he was involved in a conspiracy to bomb the Israeli embassy in Delhi before 2003. In a tape released in 2003, Ayman Al Zawahiri warned Pakistan army officers that President Musharraf would ''hand you over to the Hindus and flee to enjoy his secret bank accounts" if India attacked their country. He urged them to overthrow Musharraf and also condemned then Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's visit to India.
In 2009, there were two warnings to India from al-Qaida. The first was a telephonic threat in February 2009, the authenticity of which could not be established, warning India not to attack Pakistan and another one seven months later in which it warned Germany of attacks like those inMadrid and Mumbai.
From time to time, there have been reports about the presence of al-Qaida from J&K to Bihar but this has never been established. Security experts like Raman have warned though that LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and HuJI could "turn out to be the Trojan horse of al-Qaida". India's former NSA M K Narayanan even said that LeT was the "most visible manifestation" of al-Qaida in India.