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The Plight Of Myanmar Muslims Returns To Forefront Of Jihadi Discussions

By: A. Agron*

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

The persecution of the minority Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which jihadis refer to as Burma, by the government and by Buddhists, has been ongoing for decades. There are roughly one million Rohingya Muslims in this country with a total population of about 50 million.[1] The clashes that are taking place in Myanmar are between the Rohingya militants and the Myanmar government forces.

In 2014, when the Islamic State (ISIS) declared a caliphate, the Rohingya struggle was put on the back burner, and the focus of prominent jihadi voices and supporters was shifted to the unfolding developments of the Syrian conflict. However, ISIS's recent major losses have impacted the group's narrative and what its supporters are discussing online, particularly after several major blows in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. While the issue of the Rohingya has long been a topic of discussion in these circles, there is lately a strong uptick in its appearance.

Most recently, the Rohingya issue came up at the time of the November 28, 2016 stabbing and vehicular attack at Ohio State University. Prior to the attack, perpetrator Abdul Razak Ali Artan had aired a grievance on Facebook about the treatment of them.

It should be noted that in addition to the geopolitical developments relating to the Syrian conflict, clashes between Rohingya militants and Myanmar government forces have intensified lately, particularly following an October 9, 2016 terror attack on a police station thought to have been carried out by Rohingya militants.[2] A parallel can also be drawn between the Syrian army's killing of the citizens of Aleppo and the butchering of the Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar army; both these stories are saturating social media, and both showcase the victimization of Muslims.

ISIS's loss of the town of Dabiq, in Syria, was a major blow because the group has repeatedly stressed the prophecy in Islamic eschatology that this is the future site of the final apocalyptic battle between the Muslims and the infidels. Its fight to retain Mosul, in Iraq, is still raging at this time, but it is incurring heavy losses, and it has already lost parts of the city. ISIS has also lost all territory in its bastion in Sirte, Libya, although it is likely that cells loyal to it remain in the Libyan desert.

This report concerns the discussions amongst English-speaking jihadis and also includes official statements by terrorist groups. It should be recognized that the topic of Mosul is still heavily discussed in Arabic jihadi discourse, but that the English-language focus has shifted to encouraging lone wolf attacks in the West and discussing the Rohingya issue. The two topics of discussion merged on November 27, 2016, when a pro-ISIS Telegram group called for a lone wolf to assassinate Myanmar Ambassador to the U.K. U Kyaw Zwar Minn. [3]

Other groups such as branches of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are also currently discussing the Rohingya issue. For example, on November 30, the Taliban released a "statement of the Islamic Emirate concerning genocide against the weak Muslims of Burma." ISIS and Al-Qaeda have a similar motive for focusing on the Rohingya issue, since both claim to be concerned about the plight of Muslims everywhere and both are also trying to expand their influence and show that their movements are global.

The following report will provide some examples of the discussion of the Rohingya issue among various jihadi groups and the groups' supporters.

ISIS And The Rohingya

In an audio recording of a speech released on July 1, 2014, two days after the announcement of the Islamic State, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi twice mentioned Myanmar: "So raise your ambitions, Oh 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." He added: "Because terrorism is to disbelieve in those slogans and to believe in Allah. Terrorism is to refer to Allah's law for judgment... terrorism is to refuse humiliation... Terrorism is for the Muslim to live as a Muslim, honorably with might and freedom. Terrorism is to insist upon your rights and not give them up... But terrorism does not include the killing of Muslims in Burma and the burning of their homes... All this is not terrorism. Rather it is freedom, democracy, peace, security, and tolerance!" [4]

Banner promoting speech by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

Al-Baghdadi also mentioned Myanmar in an audio recording titled "March Forth Whether Light Or Heavy," which was released May 14, 2015.[5] At one point he lashed out at Saudi Arabia at length, calling the Saudis traitors to Islam. In his analysis, he notes that the U.S. has traded its longtime ally Saudi Arabia for Iran, and that this has angered the Saudis and pushed them, in their rage, to attack Shi'ites in Yemen. This, he stated, is hypocritical, because the Saudis have never done anything to assist downtrodden Muslims elsewhere, from Syria to Burma to Africa, and, most prominently, in Palestine.
Influential London-Based Jihadi Cleric Anjem Choudary

Anjem Choudary, the pro-ISIS London-based cleric who was recently sent to prison, voiced his support for the Rohingya several years ago. For example, on April 5, 2013, Choudary led a group of protesters outside the Myanmar Embassy in London.[6] 

Wagdi Ghoneim

Exiled Egyptian cleric Wagdi Ghoneim, an ISIS sympathizer, referenced the Rohingya in Myanmar in the aftermath of the November 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.[7] He said: " I'd like to comment on the disappointing stupidity, idiocy, and sloppiness of, I'm sad to say, our brothers and of, I'm sad to say, our TV channels, which claim to represent the legitimate cause. God help us. What happened?! What's going on?! If you want to report on [the Paris attacks], that's fine – but reports, analyses, studio guests talking, and some stupid woman even said 'if Paris is sad, the whole planet is sad.' Why do you say this, sister? May Allah sadden your heart! Why should the entire planet be sad because Paris is sad? Another one said [on TV]: 'By God, I shed tears on 9/11 for the innocent people who died.' Why didn't you shed tears over the innocent Muslims, brother?! Why didn't you shed your crocodile tears?! May Allah help us. You only shed tears over the West?! Where were you when Muslims were killed?! The air force of these criminals are bombing and killing us every day...

"When George Bush was in office, he was sitting with Tony Blair next to him – may Allah unite them in Hell, along with anyone who loves them...  George Bush said to journalists: 'I've decided to kill 20 million Muslims, and one Christian doctor.' All the journalists jumped and asked: 'Mr. President... One question... Who is the Christian doctor you want to kill?!' Bush said [to Blair]: 'What did I tell you?! I told you that nobody would ask about the 20 million Muslims I want to kill.' They would ask about the Christian because he has blue eyes. He has a Western face. He's a superman...  Their lives are different from ours...  You want proof? Nobody is talking about the Rohingya Muslims..."

Wagdi Ghoneim

Ohio State University Attacker Notes Plight Of Rohingya As Justification For Attack

On November 28, 2016, Ohio State University student Abdul Razak Ali Artan carried out a stabbing and vehicular attack, wounding 11 people. Prior to the attack, he had posted on Facebook his grievances, including the treatment of Rohingya Muslims, mentioning the situation in Myanmar twice and ISIS in Syria once: "My brothers and sisters, I am sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim Brothers and Sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE. Seeing my fellow Muslims being tortured, raped and killed in Burma led to a boiling point. I can't take it anymore. America stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah...If you want us Muslims to stop carrying lone wolf attacks, then make peace with 'Dawla [ISIS] in al sham [Syria]. Make a pact or a treaty with them where you promise to leave them alone, you and your fellow apostate allies. By Allah, we will not let you sleep unless you give peace to the Muslims. You will not celebrate or enjoy any holiday. Stop the killing of Muslims in Burma..."

Abdul Razak Ali Artan

Jihadi Supporters Discuss Rohingya On Facbook

On social media platforms such as Facebook there are many pro-ISIS accounts disseminating ISIS content in Malay, Indonesian, and Filipino. In addition to supporters, there are a number of ISIS fighters in Syria who are from Asia. For instance in in May 2016, a Malaysian ISIS fighter named Abu Qutaibah posted content and photos showcasing his life with his family in Syria.[8]

On November 30, Invite To Islam,[9] a Birmingham, UK pro-ISIS organization, England promoted a JustGiving crowdfunding page to aid Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

On November 19, the group posted an image with a quote by Dearborn, Michigan-based radical cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril that read: "Just because in Burma they are not Arabs it does not mean we neglect them! They are our Muslim brothers and sisters facing a genocide!!"

Hizb Ut-Tahrir And Myanmar

The photo below, posted by ISIS sympathizer Abdullah Hakim on Facebook, shows a Hizb Ut-Tahrir protest. Protestors are holding up banners that say "Khilafah Will Liberate The Arakan Very Soon!"  Hizb Ut- Tahrir is a radical Islamist civil grouping established in the 1950s that aspires to bringing back the Caliphate. Arakan is the old name for Rakhina state, the part of Myanmar where the clashes between the government and Rohingya people took place protest.

On December 3, 2016 the British branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir posted on its YouTube channel a video which features a member named Abu Yusuf calling on Southeast Asian governments to Rescue the Muslims in Myanmar.[10] He said: "Burma. Burma is surrounded by Muslim countries. It's surrounded by Bangladesh. It's surrounded by Indonesia, Malaysia. It's surrounded by these countries, who have armies. But these armies...  We've got to ask a question: What is the role of the army in Islam, and what is the role of these armies in the current situation that we have today? What did the verse say? “Why do you not fight in the cause of Allah?”

On November 30, an ISIS supporter on Facebook, Saifullah Al-Maslul,[11] shared a post attacking politician and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi along with a photo of her. The post read: "Terrorist lady of Myanmar." Maslul wrote, "This woman, if she still deserves to be called that, is the epitome of our vile enemy of democracy promoted by the West. Israel loves this bitch, excuse the language... May Allah bring justice in that land and may he strengthen those who are making jihad against them there in Burma."

On December 15, 2016, the pro-ISIS Facebook Account Raymond Khaili[12] shared a news report about rapes and murders of Rohingya women by the Myanmar army. This came at the same time as reports were circulating about Syrian army executions of women and children in Aleppo.

In addition to distributing content about Myanmar, some ISIS supporters are also changing their profile pictures and background banners to raise awareness of the Rohingya cause. For example, the Facebook profile photo of ISIS supporter Ahmed Ali stated "Stop killing Burma Muslims," while the account's banner read "Pray for Rohingya."

Jihadi Supporters Discuss Rohingya OnTelegram

Many pro-ISIS Telegram channels mention what they call the struggle and mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.[13] On November 27, 2016, the pro-ISIS Telegram channel Lone Mujahid 2[14] called for the killing of Myanmar Ambassador to the U.K. U Kyaw Zwar Minn., who, it stated, "has been Myanmar's Ambassador to the United Kingdom since 5 October 2013." It provided the address and contact information of the Myanmar Embassy in London, and concluded: "Set an example if you can't go to Burma [Myanmar] help your brothers and sisters then deal with the kuffs [infidels] in your backyard..." At the time of this writing, this Telegram group had 71 members.

On December 7, 2016, numerous pro-ISIS Telegram channels circulated a video identified as showing a Rohingya child being tasered by a Myanmar soldier. As shown below, the groups "Dawlah News" and "My Dawlah" shared this video.

On May 9, 2016, a Canadian ISIS fighter known as Suhayb Al Kanadee on Twitter[15] created a Telegram channel, Ghulaibat arRoom,[16] that posts mainly about jihad in South Asia.

On November 23, Al Kanadee commented in the Telegram group on the situation in Myanmar and speculated on possible future outcomes in the region related to the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya. He wrote:

"For future reference, the rohingya people are mainly present in the south west of the country. myanmar has many ethnic people, included in this are the rohingya people of the rakhine state. these are mainly,

"Kachin (Northeast), 

"chin (northwest),

"shan (eastern),

"Karen/Karenni (southeast),

"Rakhine (rohingya) [southwest] and

"Wa (east)

"only the rohingya are muslim, the rest are Buddhist mushrik and maybe a few hindu mushrik [polytheists] to the north. among these are armed groups like Karen National Union, Kokang, Kachin Independence Army, and others.

"12 armed groups from these ethnic people took up a peace offer which was offered by myanmar president back in 2012, with on/off violence.

"Myanmar is armed to the teeth with Chinese weapons as it was a former army run country no different from assad or sisi. In addition to threats from Thailand mainly, this lead to strong military arming and focus on military.   

"Geography: similar to Bangladesh,  myanmar has a central core which relies on River systems and flat Plains ideal for rice and other natural produce.  To the west are the arakan mountain ranges,  providing a natural barrier from any invasion from the western areas,  relatively speaking making the east the real threats of invasion.

"Myanmar and Bangladesh are geographical brothers in their makeup, with fertile river banks as a result of large river networks through the country, fertile plains, and mountains surrounding them on many sides.

Many areas are rich in minerals and such, with jade mining being very important for their economy.

"It was for exactly this purpose the british kuffar invaded and had a longstanding presence in this area,  becoming key to their strength as an empire.

"Myanmar purposely needs peace in the region because both China and india are creating large projects for trade and energy in the area, mainly near sittwe port in southwest.

"India has created by now, a road to link this port to their border for logistics in the north. Meanwhile China is creating a gas oil pipeline in the south sea called Shwe natural gas field.  this will end up in the yunan province of china, and goes all the way through myanmar.

"Others are direct bus routes into India,  dam projects in the north,  etc.

"These key infrastructure projects from these two countries could be key points in the future and explain their interest in these lands.

"Myanmar may have a sahwat [local militias used to fight terrorist groups] problem in the future.

"with 'inspiration' found from both taghut Malaysia and Bangladesh, some Rohingya leaders say they are trying to form an "independent state" no different than the various taghut found worldwide.

"They call for referendums, appeal to courts,  some even calling for participation in elections.

"May Allah taala heal them and cleanse them of taghut [tyrants].

#Myanmar."

The Taliban And Myanmar

On November 30, 2016 the Taliban released a "Statement of Islamic Emirate concerning genocide against the weak Muslims of Burma," which was circulated in English on the Taliban's Telegram channel Alemarah English. The statement criticizes Western organizations such as the UN for their failure to acknowledge this crisis, and calls upon the Muslim community at large to come together to ameliorate the conditions of the Rohingya.

The statement reads: "For years the minority Muslims of Burma have been facing oppression at the hands of the enemies of God and callous rulers. These weak Muslims are facing oppression and genocide for the past several decades merely due to being Muslim, believing that there is no God except Allah and following the seal of the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon him).

"They had nothing against them, except that they believed in Allah, the Al-Mighty, Worthy of all Praise! [Al-Buruj:8]

"If the weak Muslims of Burma previously faced dangers of murder, torture, being burnt alive and properties being looted however this time around the criminal government of Burma has launched a campaign of carrying out a genocide against the minority Muslims and completely ridding the country of them. They are systematically burning the homes and villages of Muslims, usurping their property, beheading their children, martyring their men in the most horrific ways, raping their womenfolk and carrying out sadistic savagery beyond any human imagination.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan condemns these cruel barbaric actions of the Burmese rulers and calls upon all the entire Muslim Ummah to utilize every means at their disposal to safeguard and protect the oppressed Muslims of Burma.

"That the United Nations and Human Right [sic] organizations are keeping tight lipped about the genocide of the Burmese Muslims, then this only exposes the two-faced policy of these organizations regarding a human catastrophe. However, the Muslims must not waste time waiting on these organizations and must extent a helping hand to their oppressed Muslim brothers in faith.

"A large portion of responsibility in this regard falls squarely on the shoulders of the rulers of the Islamic world who must sense the pain of the Burmese tragedy and must take immediate action. Similarly, the Islamic charitable organizations which help during the most difficult of circumstances must give priority to the oppressed Muslims of Burma. The Muslims must raise awareness about the plight of the oppressed Burmese Muslims throughout the world, must aid them with their lives, tongues and pens and feel their pain as pain of their own bodies.

"The Islamic Emirate considers the genocide of the over one million minority Muslims of Burma as one of the biggest crimes against humanity and condemns it with the strongest of terms. It similarly considers the silence of the world in face of this crime as an insult which cannot be justified under any excuse. "

Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan banner

Al-Qaeda And Myanmar

In a video which was released on September 3, 2014, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri announced the establishment of the Al-Qaeda Jihad Organization in South Asia. He stated that the new group's objective is to "erase the borders which were drawn by the British to divide the Muslims of South Asia.[17]

 Al-Zawahiri stated: "This new organization is a cool breeze for the hapless and weak people inhabiting different regions of South Asia [Burma, Bangladesh, and India's states of Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir]."

There is a precedent for Al-Qaeda discussion of the Rohingya. In May 2015, its Somalia branch Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahedeen urged Muslims in Southeast Asia to assist their brethren in Myanmar and called for the mobilization of men, money, and resources. A banner circulated read: "Shabaab Al-Mujahideen Movement. The Plight of the Rohingya Muslims: An Urgent Call for Action."

On December 7, 2016, the Telegram group Al-Maqalaat, which is sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and Jaysh Fath Al-Sham, posted a photo of Palestinians protesting against the situations in Syria and Myanmar. It captioned the photo: "Palestinians hold a demonstration in Ghaza and call upon the Ummah to support the Muslims in Aleppo and Burma."

On November 26, the Al-Maqalaat Telegram channel shared a Reuters news report titled "Indonesia arrests militant planning bomb strike on Myanmar embassy." The post reads: "They foiled this operation this time but the oppression of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar Burma will definitely have consequences in the future."

 

[1] AlJazeera.com, October 28, 2015.

[2] The Washington Post, November 29, 2016.

[6] Ctc.usma.edu, July 23, 2013.

[9] See MEMRI JTTM report British Islamist Organization Supports ISIS On Social Media, November 24, 2014.

[11] Facebook/com Saifullah Al-Maslul, November 30, 2016.

[12] Facebook.com/RaymondKhalili, December 15, 2016.

[14] Telegram.me/LoneMujahid2

[15] Twitter.com/Pontoon1113

[16] Telegram.me/ Ghulaibat arRoom