MULTAN, PAKISTAN (TIP): Pakistani militant Asim Umar has been handed a very tough job. Thrust into the limelight after being named leader of al- Qaida’s newly created south Asian wing, he has been entrusted with reviving the network’s fortunes at a time when Islamic State is generating grisly headlines and luring recruits.

Little is known about the man whose thinking was shaped in radicalised seminaries and madrassas of Pakistan and who will now spearhead al-Qaida’s activities from Afghanistan to Myanmar. In a video address aired last week, the group’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, named him as the “emir” of a new branch of the network that masterminded the 2001 attacks on the United States. Interviews with militant and intelligence sources reveal that Umar, thought to be in his mid-forties, has a reputation as an Islamist ideologue rather than a fighter, and is known in South and Central Asian Islamist circles as an intellectual and excellent orator.

One jihadist source in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border who knew Umar personally said that Zawahri first caught sight of his talents around the time of the death of Osama bin Laden in a secret US raid in 2011. “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida’s new chief al-Zawahri started the reorganisation of al-Qaida, with its main focus on South Asia,” the source said.

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