A group of “mujahideen” training in Burma. Image from Kavkaz Center.
A group of jihadists from Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan are reported to have formed a “brigade” to fight the Burmese government. A Burmese branch of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami that is based in Karachi, Pakistan and has been in operation since the late 1980s is likely involved in recruiting Pakistanis to fight in Burma.
“A brigade of Mujahedeen from Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan under the leadership of Abu Safiya and Abu Arif reached Burma,” according to a statement released at Kavkaz Center, a propaganda arm of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate.
The statement was accompanied by nine photographs of members of the brigade. The jihadists are dressed in military fatigues and most are wearing green headbands. The men are armed with AK-47 assault rifles and PKM machine guns. The men are seen marching in formation, training with their weapons, and praying. Scores of fighters appear together in some of the pictures.
The photographs were originally published at Arrahmah.com, an Indonesian website that glorifies jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Indonesia, and in other theaters.
The group claims it killed 17 Burmese soldiers in its first ambush of a military convoy, and “a few days ago they slaughtered three men including a Buddhist monk.” The claims could not be confirmed.
The statement at Kavkaz also noted that Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah who is currently serving a jail sentence for forming an al Qaeda branch in Indonesia, called for Muslims to wage jihad against the Burmese government.
“By the will of Allah, we can destroy you and your people like Russia, the socialist-communist country, or like America that will be destroyed soon,” Bashir threatened in a letter to the president of Burma.
The Burmese branch of Pakistan’s Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami
Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, a Pakistani terror group closely tied to al Qaeda, operates a branch that is active in Burma. Known as Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Arakan, the group was founded by Maulana Abdul Quddus, a Burmese Muslim who fled to Pakistan sometime in the early 1980s, according to Amir Rana, the author of A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan.
Quddus said he fought the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s after settling in Karachi and joining Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami.
“The Afghan war started while I was studying and I went many times to Afghanistan at the behest of Harakat ul-Jihad-e-Islami and had the honor of participating in jihad,” he said in an interview in 1998. “I stayed in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1988.”
He formed Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Arakan in 1988. The goal was to liberate the Muslim-dominated Burmese state of Rakhine, which was formerly known as Arakan.
Quddus and his Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Arakan are based in Korangi Town in Karachi, Pakistan. The group has an extensive network of madrassas and charities.
Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the parent organization, is closely tied to al Qaeda, and its Brigade 313 serves as al Qaeda’s military arm in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ilyas Kashmiri, the former emir of Brigade 313 who was killed in a US drone strike in June 2011, also served as a member of al Qaeda’s military committee.
Terror groups call for jihad in Burma
As tensions between Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the government have escalated over the past several years, calls for jihad in the South Asia country from numerous jihadist groups have increased.
One of the most blatant calls for Muslims to wage jihad in Burma came from a senior cleric and spokesman from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Abu Dher Azzam, who is also known as Abu Dher al Burmi. In the statement, which was released on Nov. 28, 2012 and was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Azzam assailed the Burmese government and accused China and Germany of supporting “these massacres and this genocide” in Burma.
“Rise O servants of Allah to help your brothers and sisters!,” Azzam proclaimed. “Rise to save your sons and daughters! Do your best in jihad, O guardians of creed and [monotheism], against the enemies of Allah the idolatrous Buddhists, and target the most important installations of Burma, China and Germany, and their interests and the interests of the United Nations, which supports these massacres and this genocide in Arakan.”
Other groups that have offered support for Burmese Muslims include the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Shabaab, al Qaeda, and various jihadist media outlets such as the Shumukh al-Islam forum, the Global Islamic Media Front, al Qaeda’s Vanguards of Khorasan magazine, and the Turkish jihadist magazine Islamic World.
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