Southeast Asia could “pay the price” of Islamic State supporters seeking to exploit the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Malaysia’s defence minister has warned.
Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin cautioned that Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), which has been seeking to establish a bigger foothold in the region, could use the current crisis to recruit members of the Rohingya community who were left vulnerable and without a choice.
“We cannot leave them (the Rohingya) desperate and wanting, because if they are and they turn to these groups, countries in this region would have to pay the price,” he said, reports the Telegraph quoting the New Straits Times.
The warning comes as Rohingya refugees continue to flee a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar army, which human rights groups have accused of burning down villages and killing thousands of civilians since the end of August.
Over the past two weeks an estimated 370,000 refugees have entered into Bangladeshi fleeing the fresh spell of atrocities in Rakhine state.
Muslim-majority Malaysia, which already hosts over 100,000 Rohingya refugees from previous crises, and this week offered to take in even more, has been warning for months about the risk that Islamists could turn the plight of Rohingya terrorists into a jihadi rallying cry.
Malaysia is already on edge after hundreds of Isil-affiliated militants invaded the southern city of Marawi in the Philippines, a regional neighbour. The two countries have pledged with nearby Indonesia to step up sea patrols to search for extremists.
According to Malaysian think-tank Iman Research, Malaysian militants had already been recruiting Rohingya affected by the last mass exodus of the minority in October, and dispatching them to the Philippines for training.
In January, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that violence against the Rohingya had fuelled an outflow of refugees that could destabilise the region, warning that Isil would infiltrate the group if the violence did not stop.
His top counter-terrorism official, Ayob Khan Mydin, later warned that extremists had already set their sights on Myanmar, reporting that the authorities had detained an Indonesian man who had planned to travel there to carry out a revenge terrorist attack.
On Tuesday, with no solution in sight for the unfolding humanitarian crisis, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina toured refugee camps and urged Myanmar to take back hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.
“My personal message is very clear, that they should consider this situation with the eyes of humanity,” she told the BBC.
“Because these people, innocent people, the children, women, they are suffering. So these people, they belong to Myanmar. Hundreds of years they are staying there. How can they (Myanmar) deny that they are not their citizens,” she added.
Officials in Buddhist-majority Myanmar claim its security forces are fighting Rohingya combatants.
“The government of Myanmar fully shares the concern of the international community regarding the displacement and suffering of all communities affected by the latest escalation of violence ignited by the acts of terrorism,” said a foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday.