Al Qaeda has plans to expand in majority Hindu India, which has 175 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world.
The leader of the militant group, Ayman al Zawahri, in a video posted online promises to “raise the flag of jihad” and spread Islamic rule across the Indian subcontinent.
India has a long-running history of bloody conflict between Muslims and Hindus.
Zawahri said the new wing would rescue Muslims there from injustice and oppression.
The Indian government believes Zawahri’s call is authentic and has warned the authorities in Assam and Gujarat states, as well as in Burma, Bangladesh and Kashmir, according to an official present at an interior ministry briefing.
“This matter has been taken very seriously,” the official told Reuters. “An alert has been sounded.”
The timing and content of the video suggests competitiveness between al Qaeda and its highly active rival in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State, which has started gathering support in South Asia.
Gujarat is the home state of India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist. He was chief minister there in 2002, when more than 1,000 people died, mainly Muslims, in religious riots.
Assam has also seen massacres of Muslims by tribal populations in the past two years.
India has also suffered several major attacks by Islamist militants, most recently the 2008 Mumbai rampage by Pakistani fighters, in which 166 people were killed.