Yangon: A new Rohingya insurgency in Myanmar’s Rakhine is a “game-changer” for the troubled state, the ICG said Thursday, warning the army’s crackdown risks setting off a spiral of violence and radicalisation among the Muslim minority.
Troops have taken control of the north of the state since October 9 when armed men carried out raids on posts along the Bangladesh border, killing nine police in a series of coordinated attacks.
At least 27,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since with stories of mass-killings, rape and torture at the hands of security forces which have heaped pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration.
Myanmar’s government has roundly rejected the accusations of abuse, saying the military is hunting down hundreds of “terrorists” behind the raids and the weapons they stole.
The International Crisis Group said the attackers were a Saudi-backed group called Harakah al-Yaqin, which has spent years recruiting and training fighters in Bangladesh and northern Rakhine.
Emerging after deadly sectarian violence in 2012, the ICG said the insurgency aimed to advance the political rights of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority.
But it warned the heavy-handed response by Myanmar’s army risked pushing its followers into the hands of international jihadists.
“The emergence of this well-organised, apparently well-funded group is a game-changer in the Myanmar government’s efforts to address the complex challenges in Rakhine State,” the report said.
“The current security response is likely to drive a dangerous spiral of attacks, military responses and increased popular radicalisation.”
Dozens of Rohingya have died at hands of the security forces in the past two months and many others have drowned trying to cross the river into Bangladesh, whose border guards have turned back over 60 boatloads of people this month.
The ICG said Harakah al-Yaqin’s front man was Ata Ullah, an ethnic Rohingya featured in several videos posted online who was born in the Pakistani city of Karachi and grew up in Saudi Arabia.
Backed by 20 Rohingya with international fighting experience, and a Saudi-trained mufti, he has spent at least two years training hundreds of recruits in guerrilla warfare and explosives.
The findings chime with AFP investigations in Myanmar and Pakistan, home to some 300,000 ethnic Rohingya.
An eyewitness to one of the October police border post raids identified three of the attackers from one of the videos and said they had been trying to recruit local Muslims for months.
A Rohingya source in Pakistan told AFP Ata Ullah is “being funded by Abu Salman, head of the Rohingya community in Saudi Arabia”.
“The Organisation for Islamic Cooperation has formed a committee called Jaleeya for the protection of the Rohingya community and the organisation has a welfare/charity wing… headed by Abu Salman.”
While the Rohingya’s plight has long been a rallying cry for international jihadists, including the Taliban and so-called Islamic State, there has been little evidence of a significant domestic insurgency before now.