DGFI backs ARSA but police hunt for them

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LOOKEAST EXCLUSIVE

Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency DGFI has started backing jihadis of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) without taking the country’s political executive into confidence.

Even as the country’s detective branch and counter-terrorism officials hunt for ARSA who are said to enjoy close links to Bangladesh’s own Islamist terror group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (Bangladesh) or JMB, the DGFI has started harboring ARSA leaders in their safe-houses in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Both ARSA chairman Ata Ullah and military wing chief Hafiz Tohar are staying in DGFI houses, one in Dhaka’s Gulshan and the other in Chittagong’s Pahartoli area.

Two DGFI directors, Brig-Gen Hamidur Rahman and Brig-Gen Shakil, who did their NDC in Pakistan and are known to be close to ISI, are handling the ARSA terrorists – like their predecessors handled the RSO and ARIF jihadis and separatist rebels from India’s Northeast until Sheikh Hasina took over as PM and announced zero tolerance for terrorism.

The resultant crackdown has forced these sheltered rebels to flee Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has deployed secret police in the burgeoning refugee camps near its border with Myanmar, where Rohingya claiming to be members of a militant group say they have found fertile ground for recruitment.

Two DGFI directors, Brig-Gen Hamidur Rahman and Brig-Gen Shakil, who did their NDC in Pakistan and are known to be close to ISI, are handling the ARSA terrorists – like their predecessors handled the RSO and ARIF jihadis and separatist rebels from India’s Northeast until Sheikh Hasina took over as PM and announced zero tolerance for terrorism

Authorities in Bangladesh, which was already grappling with its own Islamist militancy problem before the latest mass influx of Rohingya refugees, have repeatedly said there are no extremists among the new arrivals.

But inside the camps are a number of self-proclaimed members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the group behind the August 25 attacks on police posts in Myanmar that sparked a military crackdown that the UN has likened to ethnic cleansing.

A photograph released by Myanmar’s Armed Forces on October 14, 2016 with a Myanmar soldier holding a banner with Arabic writing with pouches containing bullets and documents seized inside a house during military operations in search of attackers in Maungdaw located in Rakhine State. Photo Credit: AFP/Myanmar Armed Forces/Stringer

Capitalising on anger over the unrest that has forced half a million Rohingya Muslims to flee to squalid camps in Bangladesh, recruiters claim to have enlisted hundreds willing to fight back in Myanmar, where the minority faced decades of persecution.

Those allegations are hard to verify. But authorities in Bangladesh have stepped up surveillance of the border area in recent weeks.

Mohammad Halim, who says he is a recruiter for ARSA, told that volunteers were trained in combat, military tactics and the use of weapons – but he complained that they were unarmed.

 

WAITING FOR ORDERS

The ARSA says it launched the August assault – and a previous attack in October 2016 – to fight back after decades of suffocating restrictions on Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, which denies them citizenship and free movement.

But the violence unleashed by the ARSA attacks has resulted in a massive exodus of the minority from their homes in Rakhine state.

ARSA, branded a terrorist organisation in Myanmar, is fronted by Ata Ullah, who is believed to have been born to a Rohingya family in Pakistan, and to have lived in Saudi Arabia.

Rohingya leaders have long rejected attempts by outside militants to radicalise the population. But observers say increasingly oppressive restrictions imposed since communal violence between Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 have allowed support for militancy to take root.

LOOKEAST investigation suggests that this move has helped the DGFI, specially the ISI moles among them, to start a new phase of quiet patronage of the ARSA. Last month found that the ARSA and JMB had trained their cadres in an abandoned RSO hideout in Naikhongcherri in CHT last year with ISI Major ‘Salamat’ working one three-month training modules

Security experts warn that radicalisation among the Rohingya would have far-reaching consequences, especially if global extremist groups tap ethnic rivalry in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and anger in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Refugees fleeing the latest violence – including sizeable Hindu and Buddhist minorities – have alleged atrocities by all sides, including mass killings and rapes.

ARSA has effectively gone underground in recent weeks, said Jahangir Alam, a newly arrived refugee who claimed he took part in the militant ambush on security forces last October’16.

Rohingya fighters were told to await orders and weapons, Alam said, but some in the camps were eager to avenge the slaughter of friends and family.

S.M Moniruzzaman, the regional police chief overseeing the refugee camps, rejected any suggestion that Rohingya terrorists were operating in Bangladesh.

“We are keeping a close vigil on the camps and looking out for terrorists,” he told mediapersons in Chittagong.

The army has taken over aid distribution in camps in an around Cox’s Bazar – a move experts said could double as a security precaution.

But LOOKEAST investigation suggests that this move has helped the DGFI, specially the ISI moles among them, to start a new phase of quiet patronage of the ARSA.

LOOKEAST investigation last month found that the ARSA and JMB had trained their cadres in an abandoned RSO hideout in Naikhongcherri in CHT last year with ISI Major ‘Salamat’ working one three-month training modules.

Later police busted this camp on information from Abul Kashem, JMB leader arrested earlier this year.

But Counter Terrorism officials say that some insider tip-off helped the fighters to flee the camp before police moved against it.

Bangladesh is already waging its own war on Islamist militants. In recent years, homegrown radicals have butchered secular bloggers and high-profile secularists.

An attack on a Dhaka cafe left 22 dead last year, mostly foreigners, and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told this week in Dhaka that his government had zero tolerance for militancy.

Security experts say there are valid concerns about Rohingya terrorists in Bangladesh, particularly if foreign extremist networks seek to exploit the present situation to hit at the Hasina regime.

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