Al Qaeda is expanding.
On Wednesday, the terrorist group's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the opening of a new branch, "Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent." It will wage jihad in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India, Zawahiri said in a nearly hour-long video, noting that the creation of the new division was two years in the making.
One of the new branch's top goals, Zawahiri said, is to "establish sharia in the land and to free the occupied land of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent."
The SITE intelligence-monitoring group discovered the video of Zawahiri's announcement, released by al Qaeda's media arm As-Sehbab Media Foundation, posted in online jihadist forums. The offshoot will be headed by Asim Umar, the head of al Qaeda's Sharia Committee for Pakistan, and report to Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
'It is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity.'
"The rise of this new branch demonstrates that jihad under the leadership of Amir of Believers, Mullah Omar is expanding," Zawahiri said.
The new group already has a spokesman — Ustad Usama Mahmoud.
"This entity was not established today, but it is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity to be with the main group, Qaedat al-Jihad, from the soldiers of the Islamic Emirate and its triumphant emir, Allah permitting, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid," Zawahiri said, according to a translation of the video.
He added that the new branch "is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam Sheikh Usama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him, to call the Ummah to unite round the word of Tawhid [monotheism], to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate."
Counterterrorism experts told Reuters al Qaeda's aging leaders are "struggling to compete for recruits with Islamic State, which has galvanized young followers around the world by carving out tracts of territory across the Iraq-Syria border."
US intelligence officials were not immediately available to respond to news about the new wing. The State Department's Rewards for Justice program still has a $25 million bounty out for information leading to Zawahiri's capture.
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold