Al Qaeda’s General Leadership on Tuesday, September 13 called for Muslims to help Myanmar’s Rohingya people, and for jihadis in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines to travel to there to fight.
In a statement posted on social media by terrorism researchers, Al Qaeda’s leadership noted “the crimes being committed in the Arakan province [Rakhine] today,” and said that “Military support becomes necessary in such a situation.”
Myanmar is predominately Buddhist, while the Rohingya are predominately Muslim. They are not recognized as citizens by either Myanmar or neighboring Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands have fled over the past weeks.
“The savage treatment meted out to our Muslim brothers in Arakan by the government of Myanmar under the guise of ‘fighting rebels’ – as the Saudi media loves to depict the situation – shall not pass without punishment.”
“We call on Mujahid brothers in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines to set out for Burma to help their Muslim brothers, and to make the necessary preparations – training and the like – to resist this oppression against their Muslim brothers, and to secure their rights, which will only be returned to them by use of force.”
The terrorist group’s statement also called on all Muslims to help Rohingya Muslims: “The Muslim Ummah must come to the aid of their Muslim brothers in Arakan. The Muslims of Arakan are in need of every form of support – money, medicines, food, clothing, weapons – in addition to raising awareness about their plight and presenting it in the correct perspective so that the Ummah may recognise its enemy.”
Violence in Myanmar flared on August 25 when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group attacked 30 police outposts in Rakhine state, sparking a government crackdown. The government response to the attack was described as a “cruel military operation” and a “systematic attack” on the whole Rohingya community which seemed “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday.
According to an International Crisis Group report, ARSA, also known by its former name Harakah al-Yaqin, is led by Ata Ullah, also known as Ataullah Abu Amar Jununi, a Karachi-born Rohingya man who grew up in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Other members of its leadership committee are Rohingya immigrants in Saudi Arabia. ARSA commanders in Myanmar have international training and experience in modern guerrilla war tactics, and they command several hundred locally trained recruits.
The Myanmar government says ARSA is a terrorist organisation, while Junini said that its actions are “legitimate self-defence,” part of a “necessary struggle justified by the needs of human survival.”
In a video uploaded to social media on August 15, Jununi said ARSA was “not affiliated with any elements of terror, nor does it receive funds from any other organisation.” According to the International Crisis Group, Afghans and Pakistanis may be among the people training ARSA members in Myanmar.
Maung Zarni, a non-resident fellow at the European Centre for the Study of Extremism, told Al Jazeera that ARSA “is not a terrorist group aimed at striking at the heart of Myanmar society as the government claims it is.”
“While the group may be receiving funds from the Rohingya diaspora in Saudi Arabia, the group is not calling for an Islamic state nor are they separatists, rather it’s a call for peace and ethnic equality,” Zarni said.