Police looking into possible presence of Malaysian fighters in Myanmar


KOTA KINABALU: Police are looking into whether any Malaysians have entered Myanmar to help Rohingya insurgents fight security forces accused of committing genocide against the minority in Rakhine state.

Contrary to some news reports that said some Malaysians had done so, counter-terrorism police confirmed that they had not found such Malaysians so far.

“We are still pursuing information on whether there are Malaysians already in Myanmar to help the Arakan Rohinya Salvation Army (Arsa) fight the Myanmar security forces,” Bukit Aman anti-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told FMT yesterday.

“We are in the midst of investigating this possibility. But so far, to recap, we have picked up two men in Malaysia believed to be planning to do so.”

On Sunday, Ayob Khan said that some Malaysians, supported by the Daesh (Islamic State) militant group, are in the midst of engaging in ‘jihad’ in Myanmar to fight against the government there on behalf of the oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority community in Rakhine State.

Bernama quoted him as saying the Rohingya conflict was being used as the key weapon by the IS to influence and recruit new members to engage in terrorism.

The widespread sharing of images on social media of the oppressed Rohingya people in the region was to evoke sympathy and help the IS lure new members, Ayob Khan said.

“Moreover, we do have intelligence information about the possibility of Indonesians involved in militant activities in their country,” he told Bernama.

Commenting further, Ayob Khan said Myanmar’s proximity to Malaysia pushed IS militants to act in Rakhine. Myanmar is closer to Malaysia than Syria and the southern Philippines where the conflict is ongoing, and was therefore being used as another option for ‘jihad’.

Although the recruiting of terrorists to Rakhine was still in the early stages, police were gathering information, which included the detention of the second suspect planning to go to Myanmar, a 38-year-old man from Melaka on Sept 10, he said in the Bernama report.

Based on intelligence information, the suspect, a cendol seller, was nabbed on suspicion of actively promoting IS militancy by printing and distributing the group’s flag as well as planning to join the IS in the Philippines and Rakhine.

News reports in January said the Indonesian, a factory worker, was reported to be among seven people arrested for suspected links to IS. He was also involved in a plot to smuggle weapons to Indonesia’s Poso region, on Sulawesi island.

“We detained the first person planning to go to Myanmar, an Indonesian last year whom we believed was trying to go to Myanmar for ‘jihad’,” Ayob Khan told FMT.

News reports in January quoted Ayob Khan as saying the Indonesian had been in Malaysia since 2014 and was in contact with now-deceased Muhammad Wanndy Muhammad Jedi, a Syria-based Malaysian militant.

FMT earlier discovered that it is possible for Malaysians aspiring to join Arsa to enter Myanmar through underground channels from Bangladesh and Thailand.

“People intent on sneaking into Myanmar from the Bangladesh side have to take a boat to cross the strait,” Mohd Rafiq Khairul Bashar, chairman of the Ethnic Rohingya Committee of Arakan Malaysia here, had told FMT.

“They have to start from Sabrang or Teknaf in Bangladesh and cross the waters into Maungdaw, a town in Rakhine state in Myanmar.

“From Maungdaw, it’s only two to three hours’ drive to the conflict areas.”

A Bangkok-based conflict expert who wished to remain anonymous told FMT that he had not heard of aspiring fighters transiting through Thailand to join Arsa so far.

“It’s possible, of course, but entering from Thailand means that they would be on the wrong side of Myanmar for the fight, so to speak,” the analyst said.

“Given the scale of the problem and the intensity of feelings it has aroused in parts of Southeast Asia, I’ll be keeping my ears open for more information on this possibility.”