There have been a small number of militant Muslim groups in Myanmar, but they were usually weak and disorganised. A few had tenuous international links, mainly to Islamists in South Asia, but these ties had no appreciable impact on their goals or operational capabilities. When international groups recruited Rohingyas, as they did occasionally, they tended to be from exile communities in countries such as Pakistan.
Most Rohingyas in Myanmar kept their heads down and tried to avoid being noticed by the central and Rakhine State governments, and the local Buddhist population. Their focus was on staying alive, and if possible improving their lot, not the overthrow of the regime. Indeed, most Rohingyas saw violence as counterproductive.
In 2012, however, an outbreak of sectarian violence in Rakhine State encouraged the formation of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) by a group of Rohingya exiles. Its attacks against Myanmar’s security forces in the state’s north in 2016 and 2017, and the subsequent exodus of over 750,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh, dramatically changed the picture.
These developments have prompted three questions:
- Are more Rohingyas, either inside Myanmar or outside it, likely to be radicalised by recent events and turn to terrorism?
- Are Rohingyas and their supporters likely to be recruited by international Islamist groups for terrorist activities?
- Will Islamist groups, both in the region and further afield, take up the Rohingya cause and launch terrorist campaigns with their plight in mind?
Please click here to read the full “The Rohingyas: A new terrorist threat?” article in The Interpreter by Griffith Asia Institute Adjunct Associate Professor, Dr Andrew Selth.