Al-Qaeda connections to Burma?

Minaret and Mosque on Sule Pagoda Road, Rangoon

Minaret of a mosque in the background, Sule Pagoda Road, in Rangoon.

Burma seems like an unlikely safe haven for extremist terrorists. Its society is tightly controlled, with many residents forced to notify their village headmen of any guests for merely staying the night (in 2005, after a small explosion in front of the Traders Hotel in Rangoon, the government clamped down and restricted travel and lodging for citizens and required residents of some townships to post a family portrait in front of their home to ensure nobody was hiding.)

Recently, I wrote about Burmese antagonism toward Burmese Muslims and their alienation in Burmese society. So it is no wonder that some Muslims would resort to extremist Islam (it’s such a cliché in America now, especially with presidential candidates reiterating a phrase of that sort.) The DPA reports that today, 10 suspected al-Qaeda operatives from Burma were arrested in the northwestern state of Manipur, India:

“The group of 15 Muslim migrants had entered Moreh from Myanmar without valid documents. We shall be handing them over to the police Monday for further interrogation,” defence spokesman Lalit Pant was quoted as saying by the IANS. No arms or ammunition were recovered from the group, which comprised 10 Myanmar and five Bangladeshis who were planning to enter Bangladesh from Manipur’s neighbouring state of Assam.

Burma has had a handful of Burmese nationals suspected to have ties to Muslim terrorist organizations in the past. In 2003, the Myanmar Times reported of a Burmese national arrested in Pakistan, suspected of being tied to al-Qaeda. In 2004, another Burmese man was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, according to the Myanmar Times, for possessing “vital documents” linked to al-Qaeda operatives.

In 2003, the Burmese government released a statement in response to the U.S.’ sanctions in Burma. According to the Myanmar Times, it states the following:

The Myanmar people are primarily Buddhist, a religion notable for its peacefulness and tolerance. We have 135 different national races living together in harmony.

The Burmese government does not classify the millions of Chinese (except, strangely enough, for the Kokang, who speak Mandarin and live in Shan State) and Indians who live in Burma as part of its national races. And nor does the Burmese government practice a policy of tolerance of other religions. Tourist guides may boast that Rangoon has more mosques and churches than pagodas, but that is irrelevant. As long as the government propagates or simply ignores Buddhist monks who preach hatred and violence against Muslims, tolerance does not exist.

So, it’s not wonder there are Muslim extremists within the country. Years, or more succinctly, decades of neglect and discrimination have outcast an immense part of Burmese society, comprising 5% of the population. The Burmese government needs to count its blessings–there have not been major rifts between different religions and ethnic races and needs to adopt religion-blind and race-blind policies. I believe in precaution, and I truly believe this is in the best interests of the military government itself. I am not blaming the government solely–these men, if they are in fact al-Qaeda operatives, are responsible for the poor decisions they’ve made.

6 thoughts on “Al-Qaeda connections to Burma?

  1. ZAungZ says:

    Nyi lay there are Muslim extremists in every country whether Islam is the minority or not ( and Al Qaeda has supporters wherever there is young disaffected , disenfranchised Islamic youth . )Similarly there are Christian extremists and Buddhist extremist . It is the privelege of self autonomy no matter how small or restricted that allows any of us to be extremist .

    We all know that anti-Islamist feeling is not purely a Burmese phenomenon . The current War on Terror is perceived by fundamentalist extremists as a War on Islam . There is perception amongst many people of very different creeds and religions that Islam is an “aggressive” religion despite the fact that most Muslims are simply like you and I and wish to just get on with life and contribute to whichever society they belong to . This portrayal one can argue is propagated too by our western ( albeit covertly ) press and the leaders that govern us . I have seen nothing but the stripping of aspects of personal and religious freedom in the name of emergency laws against terrorism in my home country of the UK . Although unwritten we all know that the target is Islam.

    The regime in Burma is sometimes guilty of obvious racism or at least tolerating approved extremist views but this on the whole has not translated to widespread intolerance amongst the general population in Burma .

    I have lived in many countries and I do not see the same segregation ( often self imposed ) of religions that I have seen elsewhere in Burma . Neither have I seen the same racist bullying to the extent that I have seen from the general public in the UK to give an example . Intolerance of religion and ethnicity is state entrenched in Burma but society manages to avoid the worst excesses of it simply because imho the Burmese on the whole are very tolerant. So I most humbly disagree with your statement that “tolerance does not exist”. I believe it does despite government interference.

    ( the Kokang are classified as indigenous because of unjust state rules which do not allow citizenship unless you can prove – and who can ??? – that your ancestors have resided in Burma before the first annexation of Tenasserim and Arakan 1826 I think ? The Kokang ( not all of course ) are Ming royalists who entered Burma after the fall of their dynasty in the 1600s . It helps of course that they are in cahoots with the regime 😀 )

  2. Aung Kyaw says:

    I believe you’re right in many respects, and that I may have dramatized the situation of religious freedom in Burma.

    But, I do believe that there is discrimination and that some Burmese believe that Muslims have the right to exist and practice as long as they do not affect the lives of Burmese people (like intermarriage or religious conversion), which does show intolerance. I have seen discrimination and racism, especially in some conversations with Burmese people.

  3. ZAungZ says:

    No problems . The point I am making is that really compared to many other countries ( I have personal experience of UK , France , Netherlands and Malaysia ) there is more personal and communal tolerance despite government policies . I can think of many more countries where this is the case and where tolerance is only superficial and definately does not extend to intermarriage and religious conversion . ( this intolerance in some countries occurs very fervently between sects of the same religion eg Catholic / Protestant , Sunni , Shia where there are many “honour” killings of young couples as a result )

    And of course there is discrimination and racism in some circles in Burma ( I can’t think of a country where this does not exist and this is truer the lower down the socioeconomic ladder on goes ) but fundamentalism Islam currently doesn’t endear itself to many people in many many countries . ( and unfortunately without lack of understanding , that is all people perceive as being Islam ) .

    For racism / religious intolerance , read ignorance . I agree that in part the generals are responsible for keeping people ignorant in Burma .

    What I disagree with is the US portrayal that Burma is similar to Saudi or China in terms of lack of religious freedom . This is simply not the case.

  4. Jonas M. Lanter says:

    Jonas Lanter, Professional Journalist, Abroad Investigation Burma.

    Official the Rohingya-peoples have no rights in Burma (Myanmar). They will be killed by the junta and also hundreds of Myanmar’s Rohinyga boat people whom Thai authorities have pushed out to sea (confirmed by UN-spokesman on the 6th February 2009)!

    Also the muslim peoples have the right to live in Burma.

    please visite (in German language)

    Exclusive Interview with Saw Ba Thin Sein (died Thursday, May 22 2008), Chairman of the Karen National Union and Chairman from the Ethnic National Council – ‘ENC’ under
    (on inquiry also in English please write

  5. Jonas M Lanter says:

    Yes, Myanmar (Birma) have 135 (with the Rohingyas 136) different national races living together, any in harmony, other in fightings. See Democratic Karen Buddhist Army with SPDC against the Karen National Lib. Army (Baptist) and the Buddhist against the Rohingyas (Muslime) or also in the Shan-State, Mon-State, Karen-State, Karenni-State (Red Karens) and so on. Jonas M Lanter, Journalist IFJ, ‘Help-Prize 2009’ from Swiss Government, ‘Media-Prize 2009’ Electonic Medias in German Language

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s