By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD, Feb 10 (Reuters) - An al Qaeda commander has warned India of more attacks like the recent assault on Mumbai and said its economic interests would be targeted if it retaliates against Pakistan.
Relations between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have been severely strained since militants killed 179 people in the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial capital.
India blamed the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group for the attacks and said the perpetrators were "clients and creations" of the Pakistani military’s spy agency.
Pakistan has denied any involvement by state agencies and has been investigating a dossier of information about the attacks that India handed over last month.
India has repeatedly said it is keeping all options open despite Pakistan’s denials, raising the possibility of Indian attacks on what it sees as militant targets in Pakistan.
In a video seen by Reuters on Tuesday, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, commander of al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan, referred to India’s "humiliation" over Mumbai and warned of more attacks.
"I want to convey a brief message to the government of India that mujahideen will not let you attack Muslims in Pakistan," the bespectacled militant said in the tape released by al Qaeda’s As-Sahab media wing. Mujahideen are holy warriors.
"If you make that mistake then you should know, with the command of Allah, you will have to pay a heavy price and ultimately you will be destined to humiliation," he said.
In August, Pakistani television channels reported Abu al-Yazid had been killed in fighting with Pakistani forces in the Bajaur tribal region on the Afghan border.
Abu al-Yazid made no claim of responsibility for the Mumbai attack but he praised the perpetrators as "martyrs".
"We will bring mujahideen and fidayeen from the whole Islamic world to confront you and target your economic interests everywhere until your entire system collapses," he said. Fidayeen are fighters willing to sacrifice themselves in battle.
Abu al-Yazid also called on Pakistanis to rise up and overthrow their government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Pakistan has arrested hundreds of al Qaeda leaders and supporters since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and handed many of them over to U.S. authorities.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan-Pakistani border, where his followers and their Taliban allies have strongholds.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday there was no doubt terrorists were operating from Pakistan’s tribal regions and the United States wanted to make sure Islamabad was a strong ally in fighting that threat.
In the days after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan detained LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and scores of his followers and sealed offices of an Islamist charity he headed that a U.N. committee said was an LeT front.
Al Qaeda has links with some Pakistani-based militant groups but the extent of its contacts with the LeT, set up to battle Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region, are not clear.
In a video marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu al-Yazid called on Pakistani militants to step up attacks on Western interests. The video was released a day before a suicide bomber killed 55 people in an attack on an Islamabad hotel.
Abu al-Yazid has been referred to as al Qaeda’s third most senior figure, after the elimination or capture of five earlier occupants of the number three spot since 2001.
The September 11 Commission described Abu al-Yazid as the network’s "chief financial manager". He is an Egyptian and served time in jail with al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. (Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)