According to statistics, there are over one million Rohingya refuges in Bangladesh who were driven out from Myanmar by its military regime. Ever-since genocide on Rohingyas began, members of this community had not only entered Bangladesh, thousands of them have illegally moved into a number of countries in Asian, Australian, African and European continent. One of the key points about the Rohingyas is – majority of them are radicalized Muslims. They have extreme hatred towards secular nations and governments.
A large number of Rohingyas also have moved to India, fleeing atrocities of the Myanmar military establishment. Although there is no statistical data on the size of Rohingya refugees or those Rohingyas illegally living in India – back in 2020, India’s central government told its Supreme Court, “Rohingya presence n the country has serious national security ramifications and it poses national security threats. The illegal influx of Rohingyas into India started in 2012-13 and inputs suggest links of some of the immigrants with Pak-based terror groups. Some Rohingyas with militant background were active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat and are a potential threat to internal security”.
According to media reports, a number of nations, including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are actively attempting of turning the entire Rohingya community – or at least majority of them towards radical Islamic militancy. There also are reports on secret links between Rohingyas and several jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizb Ut Tahrir. These jihadist groups are particularly maintaining connections with a number of terrorist and militancy groups such as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), and Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO).
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is also known by its former name Karakah al-Yaqin [Faith Movement], which was basically active within Rakhine State in Myanmar. According to December 2016 report by the International Crisis Group, ARSA is led by Ataullah abu Ammar Jonuni, a Rohingya man born in Karachi city in Pakistan. This group receives fund from Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Qatar, along side several individuals from Africa and Europe.
ARSA leader Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi in a video message said: Our primary objective under ARSA is to liberate our people from the dehumanizing oppression perpetrated by all successive Burmese regimes.
The group claims to be an ethno-nationalist insurgency group and has denied allegations of following radical Islamic ideologies. But according to media reports, ARSA follows many radical Islamic practices such as having recruits take oath by putting hand on Quran and referring to their leader as emir, which is similar to that of Islamic State (ISIS). ARSA members of denounce democracy and believes in establishment of caliphate. Although ARSA was not organized like a paramilitary or armed jihadist outfit, in the recent years, it has come under heavy influence of various radical Islamic militancy outfits and has been secretly gaining military strength.
According to intelligence agencies, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has suspected terror links with Al-Qaeda, Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) and other Middle East-based jihadist groups.
Rohingya Solidarity Organization
This group was founded in early 1980s. Their movements and plan of actions are similar to terrorist organizations such as Taliban and Hizbul Mujahideen. As a significant number of Rohingya Muslims aspire of establishing a sharia nation within Myanmar, a number of radical Islamic groups are secretly trying to help RSO in attaining that goal.
Rohingya Solidarity Organization’s movements and plan of action are similar to terrorist organizations like those of the Taliban or Hamas. It is allegedly working with jihadist groups, although it has denied such connections.
Nurul Islam is the boss of RSO. After the failure of merging with another Rohingya insurgent group to form the moderate ‘Arakan Rohingya National Organization’, RSO split into several groups, all claiming the name RSO. Out of these two groups collaborated with another group called as Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) in 1998 and decided to merge in ‘Arakan Rohingya National Organisation’ (ARNO).
According to media reports, all of these groups are active. ARSA, ARNO, RSO, Istehadul Tullabul Muslemin (ITM) known as student front of RSO and all these groups are active along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. ARNO, RSO, National United Party of Arakan (NUPA) are active within Myanmar’s bordering districts as well as have established secret bases in Nepal and India’s Kerala state.
As per South Asia Intelligence Review reports, at least one of the RSO’s groups is getting financial and technical support from various pan-Islamist organizations throughout South and Southeast Asia, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, Afghan warlord ‘Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami’, and most importantly, Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). According to intelligence reports, Rohingya volunteers were among some of the Taliban Jihadis captured by the Northern Alliance and coalition forces, while there are Rohingyas inside Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood.
In the recent years, there has also been connections between Rohingyas and Chechen and Uyghur jihadists. Osama bin Laden and most of the bigwigs in Al Qaeda as well as leaders of Islamic State (ISIS) had openly declared solidarity with the Rohingya Muslims.
Since 2017, Turkey and Iran became particularly interested in Rohingya community and were making frantic bids in penetrating within the vast-crowd of Rohingya refugees with the agenda of giving radical Islamic indoctrination. Policymakers in Tehran are particularly interested in getting Rohingyas converted into Shiite sect of Islam by offering cash and other benefits.
AqaMul Mujahideen (AMM) is another militancy outfit whose leaders were trained in Pakistan by its spy agency – Inter Service Intelligence (ISI). This group maintains connections with Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Indian intelligence claimed – members of AqaMul Mujahideen were fighting alongside separatists in Kashmir. It also said, one of their top leaders, Chotta Burmi (Junior Burmese), was killed in Kashmir along with JeM commander AdilPathan in 2015. Indian intelligence also claims Chotta Burmi allegedly shared the dais with Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan.
Indian intelligence also claimed, Abdus Qadoos Burmi, another Pakistani national of Rohingya origin recruited Hafiz Tohar, a resident of Maungdaw in Myanmar as the head of AMM.
Hafiz Saeed’s terror group, Jamat ud Dawa’s (JuD) humanitarian arm, Falah-e-Insaniat (FiF), was active in Rohingya relief camps in Rakhine State after the 2012 riots.
JuD launched the ‘Difa-e-Musalman-e-Arakan’ conference in Pakistan in 2012 to highlight the Rohingya issue. Subsequently, two senior JuD operatives, Shahid Mahmood and Nadeem Awan, allegedly established direct contacts with Rohingya extremists.
Bangladesh authorities arrested Pakistan-based Rohingya named Maulana Shabeer Ahmed. who was operative in 2012 and he revealed that he was coordinating with Rohingya terrorists on behalf of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Indian intelligence agencies claim, Pakistan-linked Rohingya terror groups are also noticed in Mae Sot area on the Thai side of the Thai-Myanmar border. In-house jihadist weekly magazine, ‘Al-Qalam’ published in Urdu carries article penned by JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar under the pen name ‘Sa’adi’. Azhar threatens the ‘oppressive’ Myanmar government to prepare for ‘the thudding sound of the footsteps of its conquerors’.
He states that: The country will be soon deprived of peace and tranquillity”. In his article headlined as ‘Betab Burma’ (Distressed Burma), he appeals Muslims of the subcontinent ‘to do something, and do it urgently.
Indian intelligence further said, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) founded in early 1980’s is similar to terrorist organizations like those of Taliban and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
On July 1, 2014, Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the caliphate’s establishment. In that speech he indirectly mentioned the Rohingyas plight stating, “So raise your ambitions, O soldiers of the Islamic State! For your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue and are anticipating your brigades. It is enough for you to just look at the scenes that have reached you from Central Africa, and from Burma before that. What is hidden from us is far worse. So, by the grace of Allah, we will take revenge!”
In November 2016, Taliban condemned the genocide of the over one million minority Muslims of Burma, placing the blame on the cruel barbaric actions of the Burmese rulers and calling on “the entire Muslim Ummah to utilize every means at their disposal to safeguard and protect the oppressed Muslims of Burma.
According to media reports, in May 2013, a plot against the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta by local extremists raged by the Rohingya’s persecution by Indonesian police. Several people were arrested who were found with bomb-making material. The suspects had links with previous December 2012 plot to attack US diplomatic and commercial interests in Jakarta and Surabaya.
In late November 2016, Indonesian police arrested 3 militants from a cell (whose members had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State), planning a bomb attack against the same embassy. Abu Bakar Bashir, an accused jihadist in Bali bombings, issued an open letter to Myanmar President Thein Sein from prison in July 2012 in which he said: They (Myanmar military) burn the homes of Muslims, forbade [Islamic] worship & slaughter them like animals.
He threatened Myanmar that if they did not improve their treatment of Muslims, “the destruction of the lands [of Myanmar] at the hands of the mujahidin (with the permission of Allah) would take place”.
Jamaat-i-Islami held rallies in Lahore on June 14, 2013, in which they portrayed murdered Rohingyas as martyred. In September 2012, Rohingya group was accused of instigating violence with active collaboration of Jamaat-e-Islami and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in Ramu in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar district in which dozen Buddhist temples and more than 50 houses were destroyed.
In June 2013, four Myanmar Buddhists were killed in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, some reports blame local Malay Muslims while some reports blame Rohingya refugees.
In July 2012, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan threatened Myanmar that they would avenge the targeting of Rohingya and their spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan demanded that Pakistan government should cut off ties with Myanmar and their embassy should be withdrawn.
Fake Rohingyas in Western countries
While Rohingya refugee issue alongside illegal Rohingyas in different countries have become a major headache for Bangladesh and the international community, media reports suggest, hundreds and thousands of South Asian nationals are falsely claiming asylum in Western countries, particularly Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Britain, Italy and Greece under pretention of Rohingyas. Several cases of these fake Rohingyas though were already exposed by some media reports, authorities of the respective countries as well as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are reluctant is taking steps against those individuals.
(Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, counterterrorism specialist and editor of Blitz)