Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri has used the recent hijab controversy in Karnataka to target democracy in India, saying "we must stop being deceived by the mirage of the pagan Hindu democracy".
In a 8.43-minute video clip released by the terror group online, and verified by the American SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri also showered praises on Karnataka college student Muskan Khan for confronting a group of students opposing hijab in her college in early February.
However, Muskan's father distanced himself from Zawahiri's comments, terming them as "wrong" and said he and his family were living peacefully in India.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said the video statement only proves involvement of "unseen hands" behind the row.
In the video clip in Arabic with English subtitles provided by SITE Intelligence Group that tracks online activity of white supremacist and jihadist organisations, Zawahiri also reads out a poem which he says he wrote for "our Mujahid sister" and for her "brave feat".
"May Allah reward her for exposing the reality of Hindu India and the deception of its pagan democracy," he said in the video.
"... We must shake off the delusions that confound us... we must stop being deceived by the mirage of the pagan Hindu democracy of India, which, to begin with, was never more than a tool to oppress Muslims," said Zawahiri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists.
Addressing the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, he said they must realise that in the real world there is no such thing as 'human rights' or 'respect of the Constitution' or 'law'.
In Mandya in Karnataka, Muskan's father Mohammad Hussain Khan told reporters, "We don't know anything about it (video), we don't know who he is. I saw him today for the first time. He has said something in Arabic... We are all living here with love and trust like brothers."
Asked about Zawahiri praising Muskan, he said, "People say whatever they want... This is unnecessarily causing trouble. We are living peacefully in our country, we don't want him to talk about us, as he is not related to us... it is wrong, it is an attempt to create division among us."
Observing that Muskan too has seen the video, Khan said whatever Zawahiri has said is 'wrong.'
"... She (Muskan) is still a student, she wants to study," he said.
Asked about demands from a section of people for an inquiry to find any links, Khan said let it be done, there is law, police and government for it.
Reacting to the video, Karnataka Home Minister Jnanendra said home and police department officials are keeping a watch on developments and track things in this connection.
"We have been saying this from the beginning, and the high court too during the hijab verdict had suggested the possibility of some unseen hands behind the hijab row...now it is proved, because Al Qaeda people are now releasing videos," he said in response to a question on Zawahiri praising Muskan.
Condemning the statement by the terror group, Karnataka's Higher Education Minister C N Ashwath Narayn said, "Action will be taken against organisations and people linked to them."
He said the state government has not brought any legislation against practices of any community and was only following the law.
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a programme in Umiam in Meghalaya, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma asserted that Indian Muslims will not respond to the call by Zawahiri and embroil themselves in the hijab row after the ruling by the Karnataka High Court on the matter.
He said the Muslims of the country will abide by the judgement and continue to respect the basic tenets of the country's education system.
At the peak of hijab row in February, Muskan, a second-year BCom student in Mandya was heckled by a group of students, wearing saffron shawl, for entering the college with hijab.
As they shouted "Jai Shri Ram", Muskan retorted by shouting "Allah-hu-Akbar."
Following this, college authorities intervened and brought the situation under control.
The hijab row began in January from a government PU College in Udupi where six students who attended classes wearing headscarves in violation of the stipulated dress code were sent out. It later spread to a few other colleges in nearby Kundapur and Byndoor.
The Karnataka High Court later dismissed all writ petitions filed by Muslim girl students seeking permission to wear a hijab in colleges, saying Hijab is not a part of essential religious practices of Islam.(With PTI inputs)