RANGOON—In the lead up to the foiled terrorist attack on the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesian Islamic terrorist leader Abu Bakar Bashir warned of launching jihad—holy war—against Burma’s government over its treatment of Muslim minorities.
On Friday, hundreds of protestors belonging to radical Islamic groups also rallied at the embassy, with some calling for jihad against Burma.
Burmese Muslim groups said in a reaction that they “totally reject” calls for the use violence on their behalf, adding that terrorist actions would not help Burmese Muslims in any way.
Two suspected bomb plotters were arrested in central Jakarta on Thursday night and police later found five pipe bombs at their homes, the Associated Press reported. Police said the men, belonging to an unnamed terrorist cell, had planned to bomb the Burmese Embassy in retaliation for Burma’s treatment of Muslim Rohingyas. Dozens of police were later deployed to secure the embassy.
On Thursday, hours before the attack was foiled, the Voice of al Islam website ran an article featuring a supposed April 23 statement by Abu Bakar Bashir, a well-known radical Muslim cleric who is serving a 15-year sentence in Indonesian prison for supporting a jihadi training camp.
The Indonesian-language site, which runs militant Islamic news articles, said Bashir stated that Islamic holy war was the only solution to ending the Rohingya “genocide.”
“All of this is our own fault if we don’t wage jihad. The Muslims in the Philippines are strong because they wage jihad,” he was quoted as saying, in what appeared to be a reference to the ongoing Muslim insurgency in southern Philippines.
“If Muslims are the minority, they are the target of the massacre. If they are in power, it is infidels who will receive justice,” the website quoted the detained cleric. “Buddhism is about love? That’s nonsense. Here we have proof that Buddhists are slaughtering Muslims,” he added.
Bashir reportedly sent a letter to the Burmese Embassy in mid-2012 claiming that Islamic radical fighters would take actions against Burma unless the government changed its alleged mistreatment of Muslim minorities.
On Friday, several radical Islamic groups organized a rally at the heavily guarded embassy where hundreds of protestors were swept into a frenzy by their leaders, the Jakarta Globe newspaper reported.
“There is no other way for our Muslim brothers the Rohingya, we have to wage jihad,” Islamic Defenders Front chairman Rizieq Shihab reportedly told the crowd. Some protestors were carrying banners that read “We want to kill Myanmar Buddhists!”
In a brief phone call on Friday, Ye Htut, a spokesperson of Burma’s President Thein Sein, said he could not comment on the foiled bomb attack on the embassy in Jakarta. “We are still investigating this incident, it’s too early to comment,” he said, without taking further questions on developments in Indonesia.
Ko Ko La, a spokesperson for the All Myanmar Muslim Federation, said in a reaction that the foiled attack and calls for holy war against Burma were “totally unacceptable.” “This is not the solution. We totally reject this call for violence,” he said.
“We, the Muslims of Myanmar, are always looking for negotiations and working together with Buddhist people and the government,” Ko Ko La said. “Some narrow-minded people are doing this for their own benefit.”
Abu Tahay, a Rohingya leader and chairman of the Union Nationals Development Party, said, “Actually, the people who are doing this [Islamic violence], do it for their own concerns. Not for the Rohingyas’ concerns.”
“Our method is to resolve the matter through dialogue and in accordance with the law,” he said. “The Rohingya issue can only be resolved in accordance with the law.”
The Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority living in west Burma’s Arakan State, suffered greatly during clashes with local Buddhist communities last year. More than 125,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, have been displaced by the violence and are living in camps in dire conditions with little in the way of aid.
The official government death toll of the Arakan violence stands at 192, but a US government commission on religious freedom said this week that “more than 1,000 Rohingyas” were killed. US-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Burmese government of “ethnic cleansing,” alleging that it was complicit in Buddhist mob attacks on Muslim communities.
In late March, anti-Muslim violence spread to central Burma, where dozens of people were killed and thousands displaced.
Violence against Burmese Muslims has drawn widespread condemnation in Muslim-majority Indonesia, but the Indonesian government has stopped short of openly criticizing Burma. Various radical Islamic groups, who can sometimes operate openly in Indonesia, have mounted an aggressive response to the issue.
Yohannes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesia National Defense University, said the bomb plot was probably the work of a smaller radical group and linked to the planned rally at the embassy. He added, however that it was probably not the work of Bashir, who founded the notorious terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah involved in the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people.
“A pipe bomb is easy to make, it doesn’t need much sophistication … thus I don’t think this is [Bashir’s] old network,” he wrote in an email, adding that more information is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
Sulaiman said that, despite this week’s events, radical Muslim terrorists from Indonesia were unlikely to pose a serious threat to Burma, because in recent years “militants don’t really hit foreign interests anymore, focusing on the [Indonesian] police, who are their immediate threat anyway”.
Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said, “A lot of these international cries are more about militant Islamic groups trying to use the Rohingyas issues to garner new recruits, pure and simple.”
Robertson said that inside Burma, Arakanese Buddhist nationalist groups have falsely accused the Rohingyas of having links with overseas Islamic militants, in order to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments during recent inter-communal violence.
For that reason, he said, the militant protests and calls for jihad in Indonesia “do nothing to help the Rohingyas and just serve to perpetuate fears of the Buddhist communities in Myanmar.”