The emergence of Harakah al Yaqin, the first Rohingya Muslim insurgent group to organize in Myanmar in decades, signals a dangerous new phase in a crisis that is increasingly attracting the attention of extremists in Pakistan and the Middle East.
Unknown six months ago, the group has ignited a conflict in Rakhine State that has marred Myanmar’s transition toward democracy and confronted leader Aung San Suu Kyi with her biggest crisis yet.
“Our people have been persecuted for 50 or 60 years, so support for the insurgents is there,” said Rahim, a teacher from the village of Dar Gyi Zar, who is among more than 70,000 Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh since the fighting began.
Communal tensions have long-festered in northwestern Rakhine State, where 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions, often despised by the Buddhist majority. Serious ethnic clashes erupted in 2012, but the recent violence is the first sign of a Rohingya insurgency entrenching itself inside Rakhine since at least the early 1990s.