Bangladesh police said Friday they had arrested a Rohingya man in connection with the killing of a prominent refugee leader this week, even as a Rohingya rebel group rejected allegations that it was behind the murder.
A suspect identified as Mohammad Selim, 27, (alias Lomba Selim), was arrested from a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district on Friday morning, police said.
Rohingya leader Md. Muhib Ullah was shot dead in his office at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar by at least five unidentified gunmen Wednesday night. He was buried at the camp on Thursday evening amid tight security as thousands of Rohingya attended his funeral.
“Based on preliminary investigation, we think Selim might have involvement with the murder,” Ukhia police chief Sanjur Morshed told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, without providing details.
“Police will produce the accused in court on Saturday and seek permission for his interrogation in police custody.”
Also on Friday, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) rebel group said that Muhib Ullah was “reportedly assassinated by unidentified transnational border-based criminals.”
It is time for to hold the criminals accountable “instead of finger pointing with baseless and hearsay accusations,” ARSA said in a statement via Twitter.
ARSA issued its statement a day after Muhib Ullah’s brother, Habib Ullah, accused the rebels of killing the Rohingya refugee leader.
“All the killers of my brother and great Rohingya leader are members of ARSA,” Habib Ullah told BenarNews.
“I recognized only a few of them [the killers] as the others were wearing masks. They had been working in the camp against repatriation while my brother was in favor of it,” he said.
Habib Ullah said he would not name the suspects because he was concerned for his own security.
However, Naimul Haque, commanding officer of the Armed Police Battalion Unit-14, said the rebel group was not present in Bangladesh.
“ARSA does not exist in Bangladesh. Rival refugee groups sometimes use the name of ARSA to spread panic,” Haque told BenarNews.
Muhib Ullah, 50, was among about 740,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims who crossed into the southeastern Bangladeshi district four years ago as they fled a brutal offensive launched by Myanmar’s military in their home state of Rakhine in August 2017.
Myanmar conducted the crackdown after deadly raids on police and military outposts in Rakhine state that authorities blamed on ARSA rebels. Myanmar declared ARSA a terrorist group on Aug. 25, 2017.
Also on Thursday, Habib Ullah filed a murder case with the Ukhia police accusing unnamed people of the killing. In his complaint, he said his brother had disputes with extremist Rohingya groups and that he never compromised.
“That’s why my brother became a target of the extremist group,” he said in a statement that was part of his police complaint.
‘Brave and fierce advocate’
Meanwhile, an independent media organization in Myanmar posted a video dated Friday purportedly showing Muhib Ullah’s widow complaining about insufficient security for her husband.
“He needed security. The police should have been guarding him,” a woman who Mizzima TV identified as Muhib Ullah’s wife, Nasima Khatun, said in the video posted on YouTube.
“They didn’t even come after he was shot,” she alleged.
Habib Ullah said his brother was killed because of his popularity among Rohingya and his global standing.
Muhib Ullah represented the Rohingya community before the United Nations and at the White House in Washington, where he expressed concerns about his fellow refugees to then-President Donald Trump in 2019.
Among those who paid tribute to Muhib Ullah were United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and an international group of 27 Rohingya organizations.
“Muhib Ullah was a brave and fierce advocate for the human rights of Rohingya Muslims around the world,” Blinken said in a statement issued Thursday.
“We urge a full and transparent investigation into his death with the goal of holding the perpetrators of this heinous crime accountable. We will honor his work by continuing to advocate for Rohingya and lift up the voices of members of the community in decisions about their future.”
Bachelet and the Rohingya organizations echoed the call for a thorough investigation into the killing.
“It is heartbreaking that a person who spent his life fighting to ensure that the violations committed against the Rohingya people were known world-wide has been murdered in this way,” Bachelet said in a statement issued Friday.
In their statement, the Rohingya organizations also expressed concern for the around 1 million refugees who and live in camps in and around Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh.
“The camp situation remains particularly precarious,” said the organizations with members in the U.S., United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Norway, and Sweden.
Refugees live in cramped quarters “with limited freedom of movement, access to education or health service,” they said.
While tributes to Muhib Ullah have poured in from abroad in the two days since he was gunned down, Bangladesh’s government has yet to issue a statement offering condolences to his family or condemning the murder of the high-profile refugee on its territory.
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