Pak­istan, IS ‘be­hind Rakhine im­broglio’

In­dian, Bangladesh­i in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials sug­gest links be­tween Ro­hingya rebels and Is­lamic mil­i­tant groups

Bangkok Post - - ROUNDUP - This is the edited ver­sion of the ar­ti­cle orig­i­nally pub­lished by Mizzima News, a Myan­mar news or­gan­i­sa­tion.

In­dian and Bangladesh­i in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have said they in­ter­cepted three long phone calls that hold the key to why the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA) un­leashed a pre-dawn of­fen­sive against Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces in Rakhine State on Aug 25. The at­tacks have trig­gered clashes with se­cu­rity forces and forced an ex­o­dus of the Ro­hingya into Bangladesh.

The phone calls in­volve con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Hafiz To­har, chief of the mil­i­tary wing of ARSA, on Aug 23 and Aug 24 with two peo­ple.

Hafiz To­har set up the Aqa Mul Mu­jahideen (AMM) and was trained in Pak­istan by the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an Is­lamic mil­i­tant or­gan­i­sa­tion based in Pak­istan, af­ter he was re­cruited by Ab­dul Qadoos Burmi, the chief of Harkat ul Ji­had al Is­lami-Arakan (HUJI-A), a Pak­istan­based ter­ror­ist group with an af­fil­i­ate in Bangladesh, from Kyauk Pyin Siek vil­lage of Maung­daw in 2014.

He merged his group into ARSA af­ter it was formed in the sum­mer of 2016 and is widely be­lieved to be be­hind the deadly at­tacks on Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces in Rakhine State from Oct 9-10 last year and on Aug 25 this year.

Fol­low­ing the train­ing of a few ini­tial re­cruits of the AMM in Pak­istan, new cadres were brought on board from among Ro­hingya youth in Rakhine State and refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

They were then trained in camps set up on the Bangladesh-Myan­mar bor­der, es­pe­cially one at Naikhongch­erri in the Chit­tagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

One “Ma­jor Sala­mat” of Pak­istan’s In­terSer­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI), deputised for un­der­cover op­er­a­tions with the LeT, was re­spon­si­ble for these train­ing ses­sions dur­ing April-May 2016.

Sixty three ac­tivists of the Ja­maat-ulMu­jahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion from Bangladesh that has been re­spon­si­ble for sui­cide bomb­ings in the coun­try ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, and 88 ARSA ac­tivists were trained in the Naikhongch­erri base in April-May 2016, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion re­vealed by two top JMB ac­tivists when in­ter­ro­gated by Bangladesh­i in­tel­li­gence.

This base was re­cently raided by the Bangladesh army and six JMB rebels were cap­tured. Dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion, they con­firmed in­for­ma­tion about this base and the joint JMB-ARSA train­ing stint con­ducted by ISI that Bangladesh­i in­tel­li­gence had gar­nered from top JMB leader Abul Kashem.

Mr Kashem’s in­for­ma­tion led to the raid on this hide­out three months ago.

They found con­tact num­bers of one “Bri­gadier Ash­faq” and of “Ma­jor Sala­mat” of ISI and one Is­lamic State (IS) re­cruiter in Iraq.

Bangladesh­i in­tel­li­gence placed these num­bers un­der mon­i­tor­ing and also passed their num­bers to In­dia’s Re­search and Anal­y­sis Wing (R&AW), the pri­mary for­eign in­tel­li­gence agency, which has su­perb sig­nals and in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­bil­i­ties with a re­gional reach.

Brig Ash­faq is said to be the of­fi­cer in charge of ISI’s east­ern op­er­a­tions, and he re­cently met Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party (BNP) leader and former premier Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique in Lon­don.

Some Bangladesh­i me­dia out­lets, quot­ing in­tel­li­gence sources, re­ported that the ISI of­fi­cer and Ms Zia dis­cussed ways to bring down the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment in Dhaka and boost the Ro­hingya in­sur­gency in Rakhine, for which the sup­port of the BNP-Ja­maat e Is­lami was needed be­cause Bangladesh’s rul­ing Awami League is not sym­pa­thetic to the Ro­hingya.

On Aug 23 at 11.32am Bangladesh time, there was a call from Brig Ash­faq’s num­ber to a Bangladesh mo­bile phone used by Hafiz To­har. The call lasted 37 min­utes, and Brig Ash­faq told Mr To­har that ARSA had to hit mul­ti­ple tar­gets within the next 48 hours. Mr To­har said al­though his squads were in a po­si­tion to strike, sug­gest­ing lengthy plan­ning and mo­bil­i­sa­tion, it would not be pos­si­ble to strike the mul­ti­ple tar­gets be­fore mid­night of Aug 24.

In­dian in­tel­li­gence also in­ter­cepted this call and were able to fully break the coded lan­guage that Bangladesh in­tel­li­gence had not been able to de­ci­pher fully.

“Kala Admi re­port de­tehi hamla ho,” said Brig Ash­faq and Mr To­har replied: “Ji Janaab, jo hukum, par 24 rat se pahle nahi hoga.”

“Kala Admi” or “Black Man” is pre­sumed to be re­fer­ring to Kofi An­nan, former United Na­tions sec­re­tary-gen­eral who has led a com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Rakhine sit­u­a­tion. Dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, the ISI of­fi­cer was ask­ing for the at­tacks to be launched im­me­di­ately af­ter Mr An­nan sub­mit­ted his com­mis­sion’s re­port to the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment.

Mr To­har agreed but said it would not be pos­si­ble be­fore mid­night of 24 Aug. Mr To­har speaks clear Urdu (the na­tional lan­guage of Pak­istan) due to his long stay in Pak­istan.

The sec­ond call came on 24 Aug at 2.13pm Bangladesh time and lasted for 28 min­utes.

Brig Ash­faq asked when the “Kala Admi” (pre­sum­ably Mr An­nan) is mak­ing his re­port pub­lic. Mr To­har said 3pm, just a few min­utes from now.

Brig Ash­faq pleaded for the at­tacks to be launched as quickly as pos­si­ble, soon af­ter dark.

Mr To­har said “run­ners” had been sent to all the ARSA squads with in­struc­tions to launch the at­tacks at mid­night.

The ARSA ap­pears to have been send­ing mes­sages through phys­i­cal run­ners in per­son, main­tain­ing a to­tal ra­dio si­lence for fear of de­tec­tion.

At 6.02pm a call came in from an Iraq num­ber with some­one in­tro­duc­ing him­self as “Al-Amin of Daesh” on the line to Mr To­har.

The call was shorter than the Ash­faqTo­har calls, last­ing un­der 14 min­utes.

The caller wished the ARSA the best in its ji­had against the Myan­mar colo­nial­ists, and Bud­dhist and Hindu fa­nat­ics.

These three calls si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­ter­cepted by Bangladesh and In­dian in­tel­li­gence make it clear that the ARSA and their back­ers (IS and ISI) were de­ter­mined to cause prob­lems for the Aung San Suu Kyi gov­ern­ment which had com­mit­ted to set­ting up an in­ter-min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee to im­ple­ment rec­om­men­da­tions made by the An­nan-led Rakhine Com­mis­sion.

It is nor clear whether Bangladesh or In­dia raised a red flag with Myan­mar to warn them of the im­pend­ing at­tack.

Per­haps the ab­sence of an in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing mech­a­nism did not en­able the trans­fer.

“Af­ter IS’s huge fail­ures in the Mid­dle East in the face of Rus­sian and US-led Western mil­i­tary ac­tion, there is a clear at­tempt to cre­ate a new theatre of ji­had where the nar­ra­tive of tor­ture and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions re­in­forced by heavy handed Burmese ac­tion can un­set­tle the Sheikh Hasina regime and desta­bilise In­dia’s east,” said a top In­dian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial in Yan­gon be­fore In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to re­view

se­cu­rity ar­range­ments.

“That will di­vert the In­dian mil­i­tary’s at­ten­tion from Kash­mir and Bangladesh from its bat­tle against JMB and other ji­hadists. This is a clear Pak­istani ploy.”

These re­ports could pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion to why In­dia and Bangladesh, mind­ful of their own se­cu­rity threats, might not have brought into the nar­ra­tive of “geno­cide” as some in the West and many in the Is­lamic world have.

“The ARSA is de­ter­mined to thwart Ms Suu Kyi’s good in­ten­tions to im­ple­ment the Kofi An­nan re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions. They want to bru­talise the dis­course in Rakhine and help remil­i­tarise the area so that the nar­ra­tive of tor­ture and ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings help them boost the level of ji­had and find re­cruits,” said a top Bangladesh in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial.

But both he and the In­dian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial wished to re­main anony­mous.

AFP

Ro­hingya Mus­lims in the vil­lage of Shwe Zarr look­ing at Myan­mar po­lice, who are pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity due to re­cent nearby un­rest, near Maung­daw town­ship in Rakhine State on Wed­nes­day.

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