India ordered several provinces on Thursday to be on increased alert after al Qaeda announced the formation of a wing of the militant group in India and its neighbourhood, a senior government official said.
In a video posted online, al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahri promised to spread Islamic rule and "raise the flag of jihad" across the "Indian subcontinent". The government believes it is authentic and has warned local governments, said an official who attended a security briefing in which the video was discussed with the home (interior) minister.
"This matter has been taken very seriously," the official told Reuters. "An alert has been sounded."
Indian security forces are usually on a state of alert for attacks by home-grown Islamic militants and by anti-India groups based in Pakistan. It was not immediately clear what additional steps were being taken.
Until now there has been no evidence that al Qaeda has a presence in India.
The timing and content of the video suggests rivalry between al Qaeda and its more vigorous rival in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State, which anecdotal evidence suggests is gathering support in South Asia. According to media reports, Islamic State pamphlets have been distributed in Pakistan in recent days.
Zawahri's announcement also made two references to Gujarat, the home state of India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist.
Modi has long been a hate figure for Islamist groups because of religious riots on his watch as chief minister of the state in 2002. More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in the spasm of violence.
"In the wake of this al Qaeda video, we will be on a higher alert. We will work closely with the central government to tackle any threat posed to the state," S.K. Nanda, the most senior bureaucrat in the home department of Gujarat, told Reuters. A high security alert in the state involves activating informer networks in sensitive areas.
A senior police official said that Gujarat has been high on the list of militant organisations, including al Qaeda, since the 2002 riots.
"It will be more so now because Narendra Modi is prime minister," the official said, requesting anonymity.
Zawahri described the formation of "Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" as glad tidings for Muslims "in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir" and said the new wing would rescue Muslims there from injustice and oppression.
Ahmedabad is the main city in Gujarat state, which borders India's arch-rival, Pakistan.