Isis look to recruit Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar

Experts have warned that Islamic State may now be recruiting fighters and families from the persecuted community of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, as the terror group looks to expand into wider Asia.

Up to 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar over the past few years and there are increasing concerns that the persecuted community may be easy targets for Isis, particularly if they are seeking asylum in Malaysia and Indonesia - two countries the terror group are known to actively recruit from.

Approximately 700 Indonesians and around 200 Malaysians are now fighting within the ranks of Isis in both Syria and Iraq. Last week the Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong commented on the importance of the area to the group. "Southeast Asia is a key recruitment center for Isis. Isis has so many Indonesian and Malaysian fighters, that they form a unit by themselves," he said, referring to the unit which is reportedly called Katibah Nusantara.

Violent clashes between differing ethnic groups, mainly Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists, have been ongoing in Myanmar for a number of years resulting in tens of thousands of Rohingya attempting to leave the country. 

With many countries unwilling to house the Rohingyas and without any money to sustain their families, analysts warn that joining Isis may quickly become an attractive option to the community.

Jasminder Singh, a research analyst at Singapore's S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Singapore's Straits Times that radical Islamists and Isis sympathisers had been posting messages online urging members of the Rohingya to travel to Syria to take part in combat.

Singh also warned in a recent report that Isis have now identified Southeast Asian countries as possible targets for attack as part of the group's strategy for a global caliphate. "Katibah Nusantara has also been expanding its recruitment drive for fighters and supporters through videos and printed press in the Malay language," he wrote. "In addition to the arrest of more than 100 IS supporters in Malaysia and a smaller number in Indonesia, the foiling of planned attacks in Malaysia by IS supporters is indicative of the danger Katibah Nusantara poses to the region."

Although he could not comment specifically on the Rohingya case, the head of the Singapore International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism, professor Rohan Gunaratna told Newsweek that the terrorist group have become apt at attracting and recruiting vulnerable Muslims. "Isis recruiters have developed a deep understanding of how to radicalize and militarize alienated Muslims," he said.

"IS is building capacity to reach out to Muslim communities and recruit entire families, offering sanctuary to those with nowhere else to go," Gunaratna continued. "Whereas once, recruitment to Isis was intended mainly for individuals, it is increasingly whole families that are being lured out to become part of building the Islamic State".

The military-backed government of Myanmar, which serves a population of approximately 53 million people and over 135 different ethnic groups, has long been accused of failing to recognise its 1.3 million strong community of persecuted Rohingya Muslims. The country argues they are Bangladeshis though Bangladesh also refuses to recognise them as citizens.

On Friday, it released the country's first nationwide consensus in over 30 years which failed to recognise the Muslim Rohingya as a valid minority ethnic group and since early May thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been trapped on migrant boats, having been abandoned by human traffickers after a regional crackdown.

Correction: This article was updated to remove quotations from a Human Rights Watch spokesperson who withdrew their comments.