Indian authorities are investigating whether a little-known Rohingya militant group with links to Bangladeshi and Pakistani extremists is operating in India’s northeastern states along its border with Myanmar and Bangladesh, officials told BenarNews.
The National Investigation Agency opened the probe into the group that calls itself Aqa Mul Mujahidin (AMM), following the arrests of two suspected Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants who were accused of carrying out a bombing last month at a Buddhist pilgrimage in Bihar, an NIA official said. Bihar, a northeastern Indian state, is part of the probe.
“We are investigating if AMM has any presence in India. We fear there could be some members of the group present in states bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar. And they might attempt to radicalize Rohingya refugees living in India,” the NIA official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
The Jan. 19 bomb-blast at Bodh Gaya occurred when Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was visiting the area for the annual Kalachakra festival. No one was injured in the low-intensity explosion but it was aimed at avenging violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, according to the police.
Interrogations of the two suspects, who confessed to being involved in the bomb plot, prompted the NIA to launch the probe into AMM activity in the northeast, the agency official said.
A senior police official in West Bengal state, where the two Neo-JMB suspects were arrested earlier this month, said AMM could prove to be a “headache for the security establishment in northeastern India.”
“This is the first time we are hearing about this group and that it might have already started recruiting in India to fight for the Rohingya cause,” said the police official who declined to be identified on the record.
AMM is led by a committee of senior leaders based in Saudi Arabia, the official said.
The group is also linked to Neo-JMB – a faction of JMB in Bangladesh – as well as Pakistan-based militant outfits Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the NIA official said. At some point, according to the official, most of AMM’s senior members lived in Pakistan, India’s neighboring arch rival.
The NIA, India’s top counter-terror agency, opened the investigation amid efforts by India’s Hindu national government to send back to Myanmar around 40,000 Rohingya refugees who are sheltering on Indian soil. Some 1 million Rohingya refugees are concentrated in Bangladesh alone, along its southeastern border with Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the home of the stateless Rohingya.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has petitioned a court to order the deportation of members of the persecuted minority, who had escaped from violence against their community in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Modi’s government justified this by describing the Rohingya as a threat to national security.
AMM leader lived in Bangladesh, Pakistan
Back in October 2016, the President’s Office in Myanmar issued a statement blaming both AMM and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents for attacks on police posts in Rakhine that provoked a military crackdown, which, in turn, caused tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
“They persuade the young people using religious extremism, and they have financial support from outside,” Myanmar’s government said in the statement following those attacks. Ten months later, Naypyidaw blamed ARSA for another wave of attacks that unleashed a brutal military response, which forced at least 688,000 Rohingya to cross into Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government claimed in 2016 that AMM was led by a person known as Hafiz Tohar, a Rohingya who had lived in Bangladesh and Pakistan. While in Pakistan, he allegedly acquired training from the Taliban, according to the statement.
“They broadcast their videos on the internet like ISIS [Islamic State], Taliban and al-Qaeda,” Myanmar said, while linking AMM to a long-dormant militant group called the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO).
Tohar, 45, was allegedly recruited by Abdus Qadoos Burmi, the chief of militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami Arakan (HUJI-A) and a Pakistani national of Rohingya origin who had arranged for Tohar’s training in Pakistan, said the police official in West Bengal. HUJI-A is based in Pakistan.
“Tohar, who hails from Maungdaw township in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, is just one of the commanders of the organization,” he said.
Resonance with Bengali speakers
Security forces should remain alert against a group like AMM, although Rohingya refugees rarely have been found to be involved in militant activities in India, according to a local analyst.
“There is a possibility that AMM cadres will try to find resonance to their cause in Bengali-speaking areas of India and try to connect with fundamentalists to further their cause. At this stage, it doesn’t mean much of a headache for India. But ignoring any warning signs could prove dangerous later on,” G.M. Srivastava, a former senior policeman and a security expert based in Assam state, which borders Bangladesh, told BenarNews.
“Our intelligence sources and security agencies need to keep track of the group’s activities and wipe out any of its activities from Indian soil at the very initial stage,” he said.
Paritosh Kanti Paul in Kolkata and Jhumur Deb in Guwahati contributed to this report.