The trend began in the late 1970s thanks to Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Rohingya militants developed close ties with Bangladeshi, Afghan and Pakistani groups. Today's main Rohingya military organisation has its roots in Karachi.
Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Rohingya refugees are being courted by Middle East and South Asia extremist groups, a trend that could turn Bangladesh's overflowing refugee camps into a new source of regional instability, this according to many observers, including Bertil Lintner.
The Swedish journalist notes out that the radicalisation of Rohingyas, which began in the late 1970s, finds fertile ground in a permanent refugee population.
The border region is thus exposed to possible new cross-border attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which in August 2017 led to a violent offensive by the Myanmar military in the Rohingya areas of the Rakhine State.
According to Lintner, the danger is that various local Islamist groups might come together, with serious implications for the internal security of Bangladesh, which is set to hold elections on Sunday.
The situation today is not new. In 1978 and 1991-1992, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence.
In 1978, the immensely wealthy Saudi charity Rabitat-al-Alam-al-Islami sent aid to the refugees and built a hospital, mosque and madrasa for them at Ukhia, south of Cox’s Bazar in south-eastern Bangladesh.
Saudi religious teachers arrived in Ukhia, setting off the radicalisation of some Rohingya leaders and activists.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), the main militant group among them, forged links with the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and, especially, its even more radical youth wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir.
With these new connections, the RSO contacted Hizb-e-Islami in Afghanistan and likeminded groups in Pakistan, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Afghan instructors came to an RSO camp near Ukhia, whilst about a hundred RSO militants went to Afghanistan for military training with Hizb-e-Islami in Khost province.
Today’s main political and military organisation among the Rohingyas, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) or, as it is better known locally, Harakah al-Yaqin (the Faith Movement), has its roots in radical milieus in Karachi, Pakistan.
There, several hundred thousand first, second and third generation Rohingyas, many descendants of Muslims who left Myanmar after World War II, live in impoverished suburbs, involved in illegal activities, some recruited to fight in Afghanistan.
ARSA’s leader, Ataullah abu Ammar Junjuni, also known as Hafiz Tohar, was born in Karachi and went to a madrasa in Saudi Arabia.
According to recent reports from the camps in Bangladesh, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), an Islamic organisation operating in Bangladesh which is listed as a terror group in the United Kingdom, is trying to build links with the Rohingyas.
The Bangladesh Daily Star reported on 13 December that the country’s Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit had arrested three JMB members for “providing training to Rohingya refugees.”
If proven, these accusations could provoke a militant response if Myanmar’s civil and military authorities refuse to grant refugees their demands, like citizenship and justice.