Bangladeshi police have accused the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Islamic Rohingya insurgent group, of ordering last year’s murder of the Rohingya activist Mohibullah, confirming fears of the group’s reach within the refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.
Mohibullah, the head of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in the Kutupalong refugee camp outside the town of Cox’s Bazar last September.
The advocate’s family immediately suspected the involvement of ARSA, an insurgent group in Myanmar’s Rakhine State that is also active in the refugee camps that are dotted around Cox’s Bazar.
Yesterday, BenarNews published an article quoting from a police report about the murder, which pinned the assassination on ARSA chief Ataullah Abu Ahmmar Jununi. The report claimed that Ataullah was displeased with Mohibullah’s growing popularity within the camps, and that he believed the ARSPH stood in the way of its operations.
According to the police report, which was submitted to a court in Cox’s Bazar district on Monday, Bangladeshi police have charged 29 “rogues” with the killing, all of them ARSA members, of whom 14 remain at large. ARSA denies any involvement in Mohibullah’s murder.
Kutupalong and the other camps around Cox’s Bazar are home to around 1 million Muslim Rohingya, most of whom fled Myanmar in August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive in the northern part of Rakhine State, razing villagers and driving some 745,000 people into Bangladesh. ARSA, whose attacks on Myanmar police outposts provided the casus belli for the Myanmar military’s “clearance operation” has since become a dominant force in the loosely policed refugee camps around Cox’s Bazar, and is accused of running narcotics and murdering political opponents.
The police report merely confirms what many had suspected about ARSA’s involvement in the killing of Mohibullah. Back in 2019, Reuters reported that the advocate was facing increasing opposition from militants and religious conservatives within the camps, including members of ARSA, which is also known as Harakah al-Yaqin, “the movement of the faith.” According to BenarNews, the police report marks the first official admission by Bangladeshi authorities that ARSA is present within the refugee camps, something that it had previously denied, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The murder was likely motivated in part by disagreements over how best to advocate for the Rohingya refugees. Whereas groups like ARSPH favored incremental steps toward improving the condition in the camps and working toward the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya communities to Rakhine State, and garnered considerable support from foreign governments and international institutions as a result, the ARSA advocated a harder line toward the Myanmar government.
“Ataullah Abu Ahmmar Jununi could not accept the leadership of Muhib Ullah,” the report stated. “He asked Muhib Ullah to stop the operation of his organization to promote the repatriation of the Rohingya. But he did not listen.”
The police report also suggests the possibility that personal jealousies weighed into the equation. According to the police report quoted by BenarNews, Ataullah asked Mohibullah to join ARSA and that he rejected the offer. Another researcher has also pointed to the possible past connections between Mohibullah and ARSA, suggesting a larger backstory to the grim occurrence.