DUBAI (Reuters) - A senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has called for attacks on Myanmar authorities in support of minority Rohingya Muslims, the SITE monitoring center said on Saturday as thousands fled what they say is a government assault on their villages.
Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya pose one of the biggest challenges facing leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accused by Western critics of failing to support the Muslim minority that has long complained of persecution.
In a video message released by al Qaeda’s al-Malahem media foundation, Khaled Batarfi called on Muslims in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia to support their Rohingya Muslim brethren against the “enemies of Allah.”
Batarfi, who was freed from a Yemeni prison in 2015 when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) seized the port city of Mukalla, also urged al Qaeda’s Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) branch to carry out attacks.
“So spare no effort in waging jihad against them and repulsing their attacks, and beware of letting down our brothers in Burma (Myanmar),” Batarfi said, according to the U.S.-based monitoring center.
About 58,600 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh from Myanmar, according to U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
Myanmar officials accuse the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) of burning homes. The group claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks on security posts last week that prompted clashes and a large army counter-offensive.
But Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is conducting a campaign of arson and killings to drive them out.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and regarded as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots that date back centuries. Bangladesh, where more than 400,000 Rohingya live since they began fleeing Myanmar in the 1990s, is also growing increasingly hostile to the minority.
(This version of the story corrects to show Rohingya are a minority, not a majority, in second paragraph)
Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Ralph Boulton