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Thailand Islamic Insurgency

2001-2004

Thailand suffered a number of bombings throughout 2001, and many believed by authorities to be the work of Islamic extremists in those countries. Few arrests were made, however. Thai authorities suspect Muslim organized crime groups from the predominately Muslim provinces in southern Thailand were responsible for several small-scale attacks in 2001. One act of terrorism occurred on 7 April 2001 when the Haad Yai train station was bombed resulting in the death of a young boy, injuries to several passengers, and severe damage to property. Others included an unexploded truck bomb that was found next to a hotel in southern Thailand in November 2001, and, in December 2001, a series of coordinated attacks on police checkpoints in southern Thailand that killed 5 police officers and a defense volunteer.

Thailand faced renewed violence in the southern provinces after 2001, largely blamed on former Muslim insurgents who had turned to banditry. After the violence resumed some 50 police and soldiers have been killed in incidents that analysts often link to criminal gangs, extortion and smuggling.

Problems began with the government's decision in the summer of 2001 to dismantle the government's once successful intelligence and suppression operations against those separatist and insurgent movements. This was exacerbated by the government's initial response, which was limited to labeling it a law-enforcement issue and blaming it on gangs of organized criminals and out of work Thai Army officers displaced by the government's policy change.

While there was no information that suggested transnational groups had yet become associated with the Al Qaeda network and/or that Thai separatist terrorists were cooperating on any level beyond basic joint operations planning, largely due to divergent goals and interests, several Thai military sources reported increased levels of possible Al Qaeda activity in one of the states in Northern Malaysia bordering Thailand. Moreover, on 15 July 2002, Prime Minister Thaksin dramatically reversed his position and ordered the Army, Civilian Military Police (CPM 43) and Ministry of Interior to re-establish their previously dismantled intelligence apparatus, control headquarters, and Administrative Center for Southern Border Provinces, respectively. The National Security Council also set up a coordinating center. However, it was unclear immediately what affect these actions were to have on the situation.

Southern Thailand's terrorist incidents in 2002 raised questions about potential Al Qaeda Network involvement. These attacks were the handiwork of a small number of highly organized, experienced insurgents from 4-8 Muslim groups, each numbering no more than 30 people, that had embarked on a concerted and well-planned campaign of ambushes, murders, weapons thefts and criminal extortion since the Thaksin government transferred security responsibilities from the Army to the police during the summer of 2001. Although some of their activities might have been inspired by the Thai Government's assistance to the US Global War on Terror, southern Thailand's stability had always been a direct reflection of Bangkok's degree of control. These groups had not increased their capability to conduct a sustained terrorist campaign and the threat in 2002 from Thai Muslim separatist terrorist groups in the region still remained limited despite the increased violence attributed to them.

On 10 June 2003, Thai police broke up a cell of the Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah and foiled a plot to bomb embassies in the country. Three Thai men alleged to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah, the group suspected in the 2002 bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, were arrested in raids on their homes in the Muslim-dominated Narathiwat province, 710 miles south of Bangkok. The development followed the 16 May 2002 arrest in Bangkok of Arifin bin Ali, 42, a Singaporean alleged to be a senior member of the terror group.

Thai Muslim separatists might have called on support from the Malaysian Kampulan Mujahedin. The Malaysian group had links to the regional terror organization, Jemaah Islamiyah, which had ties to the al-Qaida terror network. There was talk decades prior about creating a Muslim state in parts of Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia, but this had largely disappeared. Some religious leaders in the past, about 60- or 80-years prior, had the idea to separate southern Thailand as an independent state. Some had even wanted to join with Selantan state, Terranganu, and Cambodia and become an Islamic state.

The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakin Aceh Merdeka: GAM) maintained links with Muslim Pattani separatists in Thailand, including the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), Bersatu and Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani (GMIP), and Islamic organizations in Malaysia including the Kumpulan Mujahiden Malaysia (KMM).

On 4 January 2004, 4 Thai soldiers were killed when about 30 armed bandits stormed the army depot in Narathiwat, 720 miles south of Bangkok, stealing a cache of 300 weapons including: 300 assault rifles, 40 pistols and 2 M60 machine guns. Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said the assailants were possibly aided by someone inside the military's armory. No one had initially claimed responsibility for either attack. Meanwhile, 18 schools in the same area were set on fire using mosquito coils on petrol-soaked sacks. Government-run secular schools had been targeted in the past because they were seen as anti-Islamic by separatist militants.

On 5 January 2004, 2 policemen were killed when a bomb they were trying to defuse, planted on a motorcycle parked outside a shopping mall in Pattani, exploded. Meanwhile, another policeman was hurt when an explosion ripped through a police box in a nearby public park. Two more bombs were found and defused in a shopping-mall telephone booth and nearby petrol station. Police Commissioner General Sant Sarutanond said intelligence officers had learned that a group of 12 Muslim terrorists had planned to plant bombs in the 4 Muslim-dominated provinces as part of an ongoing terror campaign. Attacks on police posts continued until 7 January 2004. However, following the attacks, the army offered a reward of 1 million Bhat for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

A wave of attacks in southern Thailand forced the government to stop blaming "bandits" and acknowledge, for the first time in decades, that separatist militants were operating in the country. On 5 January 2004, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared martial law in most of the affected region, the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala. Defence Minister Thamarak Isarangura authorised Fourth Army Region commander Lieutenant General Phongsak Aekbansingha to place 6 districts in Narathiwat, 3 districts in Yala, and 4 districts in Pattani under martial law. This followed a deadly arms raid and arson attack which re-ignited security concerns in the majority Muslim provinces of southern Thailand. More than 100 assault rifles were stolen in a raid on 4 January 2004 by dozens of assailants, who killed 4 Thai soldiers and torched 18 schools. In early 2004, there were reports of more than 100 fighters moving near the border.

The premier blamed the assault on the Mujahideen Islam Pattani, one of several Muslim separatist groups accused of killing about 50 police officers over the previous 3 years. The banned Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) had boasted in May 2003 that Thai security forces were "falling like leaves" as Muslims fought to free the south from Bangkok's rule. PULO Deputy President Lukman B. Lima charged that Bangkok "illegally incorporated" the far south into Thailand 100 years ago and now ruled it with "colonial" repression while "committing crimes against humanity in the area."

According to officials, key members of the Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani (GMIP), the Barison Revolusi Nasional (BRN), and both the old and new Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) were being closely followed. Government security adviser Kitti Rattanachaya told the media that the attacks were likely carried out by a local separatist group with the help of al-Qaida linked terrorists. As of 8 January 2004, authorities had detained 5 and questioned 30 people in connection with the attacks. Malaysia had vowed to enforce necessary measures to bar the suspects from fleeing to its territory by dispatching troops to the Thai-Malaysian border following Bangkok's request. Meanwhile, senior military officials were considering the need to rebuild intelligence networks, in an area of the country where the domestic population were considerably more hostile to authorities. Also, Thailand had asked Jakarta to monitor Thai Muslim students in Indonesia for signs of militancy following the attacks.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's swift response, including full-scale bilateral coordination efforts with bordering countries (Malaysia and Indonesia) amplified the government's precarious position of eliminating terrorism in a Muslim-dominated region. While necessary to sustain peace and order, acknowledging the presence and activity of Islamic separatists groups was seen as having the potential to prove more of a hindrance to Bangkok's efforts, further widening the existing gap between the already discontented Muslim population and government authorities. Meanwhile, local community leaders had warned that such heavy-handed action might drive away future tourism and foreign investment opportunities to the area.

Thailand rejected claims violence in its Muslim-dominated south was linked to international terror groups, while the defence minister confirmed 2 arrests had been made. Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said no evidence supported the theory that culprits behind the deadly attacks were linked to regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, as claimed by a top security official. Since the attacks began in January 2004 about 70 people died, mostly in drive-by killings by men on motorcycles.

On 22 January 2004 a Buddhist monk was hacked to death. Muslim extremists were blamed. On 28 March 2004 the Thailand government said violence in the Muslim-dominated south was at a "crucial stage" and pledged tougher measures, after a bombing in the region injured 29 people, including 10 Malaysian tourists.

As many as 112 people were killed in late April 2004 in clashes between security forces and militants who attacked more than a dozen security posts in 3 southern provinces. Most of the attackers were in their twenties and their leaders wore black T-shirts, indicating a high level of organization. Officials believed the attackers wanted to steal weapons, as in a similar attack in January 2004 on an army barracks in which four soldiers were killed. The government said it believed the unrest was not due to religious extremists, but rather criminals seeking to cover up their illegal activities.

On 23 April 2004, a massive fire raced through a slum in downtown Bangkok, snarling traffic and spewing plumes of black smoke over embassies and 5-star hotels in the area. Armed assailants fatally shot an army officer, just hours after unidentified attackers set fire to about 50 public buildings in all 13 districts of Narathiwat in the worst day of arson attacks in Thailand's Muslim-dominated south.

On 28 April 2004, police gunned down machete-wielding militants who stormed security outposts in southern Thailand, in which they killed at least 112 people. The 16th century Krue-sae Mosque was damaged by soldiers who fired automatic weapons, tear gas, and grenades at it and killed 32 suspected Islamic insurgents.

On 10 June 2004, hooded assailants with assault rifles slashed the throat of a night guard outside a government school in the Muslim south and seized weapons from other security personnel who were inside.

On 25 October 2004, 78 people were suffocated or crushed to death after being arrested and packed into police trucks following a riot over the detentions of Muslims suspected of giving weapons to Islamic separatists. Over 1,300 people were packed in 6-wheeled trucks and taken on a 5-hour journey to barracks in Pattani province. On 28 October 2004, a bomb exploded outside a bar, killing 2 people and injuring 21.

On 2 November 2004 Jaran Torae, a local Buddhist official, was beheaded by suspected Muslim insurgents as revenge for the deaths of 85 rioters that occurred the previous week. Two days later, 9 Buddhists were killed including 2 policemen. On 13 November 2004, a 60-year-old Buddhist man was killed and at least 13 people injured in the 2 latest bomb blasts. Five bomb attacks had occurred in the last 24-hours.

On 5 December 2004, Thailand airdropped nearly 100 million Japanese-style origami cranes over the predominantly Muslim southern region in a psychological effort toward peace. A series of bomb attacks followed the next day.




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