An armed insurgent group of oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority members in Myanmar who carried out a deadly attack against border guards in October is receiving support from diaspora members in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, reports the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG).
According to the ICG, the armed Rohingya Muslim insurgent group carried out an attack on October 9 in the Muslim-majority northern sector of Rakhine State in Myanmar that killed nine policemen and sparked a crackdown by the country’s security forces against the minority group.
ICG identifies the armed group as Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY), or Movement of the Faith, noting that it is overseen by the Rohingya committee based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and led by Ata Ullah, an ethnic Rohingya born in Karachi, Pakistan.
“The emergence of this well-organized, apparently well-funded group is a game-changer in the Myanmar government’s efforts to address the complex challenges in Rakhine State, which include longstanding discrimination against its Muslim population, denial of rights and lack of citizenship,” points out the international organization.
“It is possible, however, that its objectives could evolve, given its appeals to religious legitimacy and links to international jihadist groups, so it is essential that government efforts do not focus only or primarily on military approaches, but also address underlying community grievances and suffering,” adds ICG.
Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and rival al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) have alluded to the ongoing plight of the Rohingyas in their propaganda material, and the combat experience of at least some of the minority group fighters suggested links to international terrorists, noted the Brussels-based organization.
ICG acknowledged that HaY has notably not engaged in attacks against the civilian Buddhist population in Rakhine, adding that to date the group’s primary goals are to end the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar and secure the minority’s citizenship status.
The predominantly Buddhist government in Myanmar is led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She has blamed “terrorist” Rohingyas supported by foreign militants for the October 9 attack.
HaY leader Ullah grew up and received an education in Mecca.
“Though not confirmed, there are indications he went to Pakistan and possibly elsewhere, and that he received practical training in modern guerrilla warfare,” notes ICG.
Ullah is reportedly among 20 Rohingya Muslims with experience in modern guerrilla tactics that run the HaY operations in Myanmar.
ICG identifies another top member of the insurgent group as religious scholar Ziabur Rahman, a Saudi-educated Rohingya who has the authority to issue fatwas (religious edict) of clerics in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, among other countries.
Citing state-owned media in Myanmar, Reuters reports that at least 86 people have been killed in recent clashes between Rohingya Muslims and security forces, noting that the United Nations has estimated 27,000 members of the minority group have fled across the border to Bangladesh.
ICG notes that the 2012 outbreak of sectarian violence between the Buddhist majority in Rakhine and the Rohingyas prompted the birth of the armed HaY group.
More than 100 people lost their lives in the violence and nearly 140,000 have been displaced in Rakhine State, most of them Rohingya, the group said.
ICG points out that Rohingya who have fought in other conflicts, as well as Pakistanis or Afghans, provided clandestine training to northern Rakhine villagers over two years ahead of the attacks.
“It included weapons use, guerrilla tactics and, HaY members and trainees report, a particular focus on explosives and IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” the group said.
ICG noted that the armed group was created in 2012 following the outbreak of sectarian violence between the Buddhist majority in Rakhine and the Rohingya, which aggravated the marginalization of this minority, whose citizenship the Myanmar authorities do not recognize.
Members of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority, who primarily reside in northern Rakhine State in western Myanmar along the country’s border with Bangladesh, reportedly practice Sunni Islam, with elements of Sufism — a Muslim movement described as Islamic mysticism and considered heresy by many Muslims.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are Sunni-majority countries.
According to the UN, the group has long been persecuted by Rakhine State’s Buddhist majority population.
Although there are an estimated 1 million Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, authorities in the country do not recognize them as citizens.
The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that the Myanmar military has been accused of numerous human rights violations against the Rohingyas, including executions, rapes, looting and burning of at least 1,500 of their houses.