BALUKHALI, Bangladesh — Nazir Hossain, the imam of a village in far western Myanmar, gathered the faithful around him after evening prayers last month. In a few hours, more than a dozen Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fighters from his village would strike a nearby police post with an assortment of handmade weapons.
The men needed their cleric’s blessing.
“As imam, I encouraged them never to step back from their mission,” Mr. Hossain recalled of his final words to the ethnic Rohingya militants. “I told them that if they did not fight to the death, the military would come and kill their families, their women and their children.”
They fought — joining an Aug. 25 assault by thousands of the group’s fighters against Myanmar’s security forces — and the retaliation came down anyway. Since then, Myanmar’s troops and vigilante mobs have unleashed a scorched-earth operation on Rohingya populations in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.