The Myanmar government said Friday that an extremist Islamic terrorist organization whose leader was trained by the Taliban in Pakistan carried out violent weekend attacks on three border guard posts near the border of Bangladesh in restive Rakhine state’s Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships.
More than 40 border guards, attackers, and soldiers have died since the initial raids on the border posts on Sunday, and hundreds of residents have fled to neighboring townships such as Buthidaung to escape subsequent clashes between security forces and armed men.
Army soldiers and border police have conducted security sweeps of villages in Maungdaw, searching the homes of Rohingya Muslims for the attackers and stolen weapons.
Interrogations of two attackers who were caught and another two who were handed over to Myanmar security forces by Bangladesh have revealed that the attacks were carried out by Aqa Mul Mujahidin, an Islamic organization active in Maungdaw, a statement issued by President Htin Kyaw’s office said.
“According to the findings of the interrogations, the attacks in Maungdaw were intended to promote extremist violent ideology among the majority Muslim population in the area,” the statement said. “Using Maungdaw as a foothold, this was an attempt to take over the areas of Maungdaw and [nearby] Buthidaung [township].”
The organization’s leader Havistoohar is a “religious and social extremist’ believed to be about 45 years old from Kyaukpyinseik village in Maungdaw, who previously participated in a six-month Taliban training course in Pakistan, it said.
He pretended to be a refugee and frequently went to a village near Teknef in Bangladesh, where he received funding from organizations and extremist individuals in the Middle East, it said.
“The funding was not provided by particular organizations, but was provided secretly through contacts between individuals,” the statement said.
Havistoohar worked with a Pakistani named Kalis who had also participated in terrorist training at a camp in Pakistan. About five month ago, he had arranged for Kalis to go to Maungdaw to conduct armed training classes for local extremist youth whom Havistoohar had mobilized, the statement said.
Linked to the RSO
Aqa Mul Mujahidin has links to the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a small militant group active in the 1980s and the 1990s until the Myanmar government launched a counteroffensive to expel its insurgents from the border area with Bangladesh. The group was believed to be defunct.
“They secretly ran weapons training and self-defense training in remote locations in the hills and forests, as well as in the compound of Abdul Rahman in the Middle Nga Ku Ra village, and in the forest near Kyauk Pyin Seik village,” the statement said. “Following this, plans were drawn up to carry out violent attacks.”
Havistoohar planned for about 400 attackers to simultaneously attack six border guard posts and local police offices, it said.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s top leaders held a special meeting on Friday in the capital Naypyidaw to discuss the backgrounds of the terrorists, current actions of security forces in the area, and procedures for dealing with the culprits.
President Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, deputy commander-in-chief Vice Senior General Soe Win, Minister for Home Affairs Lt. Gen. Kyaw Swe, Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. Sein Win, and Minister for Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe also discussed armed conflicts in other areas of the country and management procedures to enhance the capacity and abilities of the Myanmar police force.
Government ministers, representatives of political parties, and officials from nongovernmental organizations also met on Friday in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe to discuss the Maungdaw attacks.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.