Al-Qaeda has released a new video about the plight of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslim population. The 21-minute long production, released through the organization’s main propaganda outlet As-Sahab, is titled “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Ummah.” The video features audio clips of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and is thematically focused on the atrocities committed by Myanmar’s government, military, and security apparatus as well as states and organizations accused of being actively or passively complicit in the violence. Zawahiri issued a direct call for attacks: “This is the way forward: Striking the interests of Myanmar and the criminals of Myanmar wherever we are able to do so.”
The release has prompted researchers to speculate about when the Zawahiri audio was likely recorded, question whether he is even still alive, and gauge the reaction of jihadist elements around the world. Rumours about Zawahiri’s health and possible demise have circulated for months, with some drawing comparisons to the mode of secrecy that followed the passing of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. For now, there is a lack of definitive evidence one way or the other and the facts will ultimately be revealed in time.
Leadership and succession issues aside, the video’s content is interesting in a number of ways. Though it focuses foremost on the actions of Myanmar’s government and, secondarily, on perceived Western support for the atrocities, the production gives further indication of the global jihadist movement’s increased emphasis on China (a subject I have written about elsewhere: Part I and Part II). The release continues the trend of prominent militant groups disseminating anti-China messaging to international audiences. China is mentioned in three separate instances throughout the video.
The narrator discussed the international political environment that has enabled the Myanmar government in its campaign of aggression against the Rohingya population:
“In spite of the horrendous nature of the genocide and racial cleansing of the Muslims of Rohingya, the ‘world community’ has remained silent, if not passively supportive of these crimes. The reason is simple: the victims are Muslims, not Christians, Buddhists or atheists — the occupants of the five permanent seats in the UN Security Council.”
He followed by later honing in on China’s alleged abuses in Xinjiang:
“As for the oppression faced by the Uyghur Muslims, the criminality of the Chinese government has crossed all limits. Women are subjected to rape in concentration camps and are forcibly sterilized so that they are unable to bear children. Chinese diplomats in America have the audacity to say that this is something for which the world should be grateful to China!”
Al-Qaeda included an old clip of Osama bin Laden discussing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC):
“And I say, clarifying their domination of the Security Council, that Crusader International and pagan Buddhism hold the 5 permanent seats and what is called the privilege of the right of veto in what is called the Security Council. America and Britain represent the Protestant Christians, Russia represents the Orthodox Christians, and France represents the Catholic Christians, while China represents the Buddhists and pagans of the world.”
Al-Qaeda’s decision to boost anti-China narratives is indicative of broader jihadist sentiment and ideological currents. It also signals the rhetorical traction China-related issues have gained within global militant discourse. China’s continued rise and its policies have attracted a markedly higher level of Islamist attention in recent years.