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Thailand Islamic Insurgency

Peace talks are scheduled for 02 September 2016 between officials and representatives of a southern separatist umbrella group, MARA Patani. Recent violence has created new uncertainties about whether the peace talks will lead to progress. But a series of bombings and arsons hit several south-central Thai beach resorts, including in the town of Hua Hin, just 200 kilometers south of Bangkok. Four people died and more than 30 were injured in the August 12 attacks. Until the August 12 bombings, it appeared most insurgent groups wanted to negotiate.

The outbreak of violence in Thailand's southern provinces of Yala and Pattani on 12 February 2016 included the roadside bombing of a military patrol providing security for local school teachers, drive-by shootings and arson attacks. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told local media the government would not make any peace deals as long as violence persisted.

The insurgency in the largely Muslim-populated region, in its 12th year, had claimed over 6,500 lives, defying official efforts to end the bloodshed. The insurgency seeks greater regional autonomy from the Thai state, which the central government has consistently rejected. Progress toward peace has been undermined by the military’s harder-line policy in dealing with the southern insurgency.

Thailand's military junta put new security measures in place on June 22, 2014 in a bid to calm the country's restive southern region, where fighting with Muslim separatists had claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past decade. The most frequent targets of insurgent attacks are ethnic Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims in the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. Brutal attacks on teachers and state officials by insurgents have led to accusations of extra judicial killings by authorities, perpetuating a cycle of violence.

The military leaders also hoped to restart peace talks with insurgents. A new command structure for Thailand's southern border provinces had junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha replace civilian authorities as the army takes a lead role in efforts to halt rising violence in the south. Civilian organizations would come under the military command. Peace talks under the former civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, collapsed in 2013 and there was no fresh date set for them to recommence.

Historically, the southern region of Thailand, consisting of the provinces of Satun, Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, had served as a dumping ground for corrupt and/or incompetent civilian and military officials. This had been further aggravated by the population's ethnic make-up, predominantly Thai Muslims, which had produced a major degree of alienation intensified by government misadministration. Additionally, daily life there, particularly in urban areas, was continually plagued by a higher level of common banditry and lawlessness, more so than in the Kingdom's other regions, making it very difficult for authorities to differentiate between criminal lawlessness and terrorist acts commissioned by domestic Thai terrorist or Muslim Separatist groups.

The practice of Islam was concentrated in Thailand's southernmost provinces, where the vast majority of the country's Muslims, predominantly Malay in origin, were found. The remaining Muslims were Pakistani immigrants in the urban centers, ethnic Thai in the rural areas of the Center, and a few Chinese Muslims in the far north. Education and maintenance of their own cultural traditions were vital interests of these groups. Except in the small circle of theologically trained believers, the Islamic faith in Thailand, like Buddhism, had become integrated with many beliefs and practices not integral to Islam. It would be difficult to draw a line between animistic practices indigenous to Malay culture that were used to drive off evil spirits and local Islamic ceremonies because each contained aspects of the other. In the mid-1980s, the country had more than 2,000 mosques in 38 Thai provinces, with the largest number (434) in Narathiwat Province. All but a very small number of the mosques were associated with the Sunni branch of Islam. The remainder were of the Shia branch. Each mosque had an imam (prayer leader), a muezzin (who issued the call to prayer), and perhaps other functionaries. Although the majority of the country's Muslims were ethnically Malay, the Muslim community also included the Thai Muslims, who were either hereditary Muslims, Muslims by intermarriage, or converts. Also in Thailand were Cham Muslims originally from Cambodia; West Asians, including both Sunni and Shias; South Asians, including Tamils, Punjabis and Bengalis; Indonesians, especially Javanese and Minangkabau; Thai-Malay or people of Malay ethnicity who have accepted many aspects of Thai language and culture, except Buddhism, and had intermarried with Thai; and Chinese Muslims, who were mostly Haw living in the North.

Following World War II, local Malaysian communists, nearly all Chinese, launched a long, bitter insurgency, prompting the imposition of a state of emergency in 1948, which was eventually lifted in 1960. Small bands of guerrillas remained in bases along the rugged border with southern Thailand, occasionally entering northern Malaysia. These guerrillas finally signed a peace accord with the Malaysian Government in December 1989.

In the past, the Muslim separatist groups in southern Thailand, as well as the Communist Party of Thailand, dabbled in drug trafficking to raise funds to support their political and operational objectives. As of 2000 there was little if any data linking indigenous terrorists to drug trafficking in Southeast Asia. The Communist Party had not been a viable organization in Thailand for years, and the Muslim separatist movement had fractured into a number of organizations known more for their banditry than their political activities. Drug trafficking did not, therefore, contribute to any significant terrorism on the part of these organizations. In fact, there were no credible reports of any terrorist groups either being based in or conducting terrorist activity within the Kingdom of Thailand.

The 4-province area in the southern-most part of Thailand, which was populated mainly by Muslim Thais, had not been completely pacified. There were still some small groups of Islamic radical, which sometimes resorted to violent tactics in order to make their presence felt, were still posing problems to public safety in the south. The crack down following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States on terrorist organizations with connections to international terrorist groups like Al-Queda, was seen as having the potential to spill over into this sensitive area. The possibility of local Islamic radical groups in the south giving sanctuary or staging location for future attack to fellow neighboring or international factions could be totally discounted. It had been a concern among Thai and friendly countries. Authorities had known for quite some time that many Muslim Thai activists went overseas to Islamic schools, where they came under influence of hard-line teachers. Some were reported to have joined the jihad against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and returned to Thailand as extremists.

There were also some Tamil Tigers in the Phuket area of southern Thailand reportedly involved in heroin smuggling. In addition, they were believed to have purchased weapons for transport to Sri Lanka to support their separatist activities there. The drug proceeds could have been used to purchase any weapons actually acquired. In 2000, Thai officials again publicly pledged to halt the use of Thailand as a logistics base by the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The pledges, which echoed reassurances made by Bangkok in previous years, followed the discovery in June 2000 of a partially completed submersible at a shipyard in Phuket, Thailand, owned by an LTTE-sympathizer, as well as an unclassified paper by Canadian intelligence published in December that outlined the Tigers' use of front companies to procure weapons via Thailand.

There were 5 main Islamic insurgent groups that had appeared throughout the 20th century that contributed to the attacks in Thailand. One of these groups was called the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate, or BRN-Coordinate. The original BRN was established in 1960 as a leftist organization advocating Islamic socialism, but later split in the 1980s into 3 politically more moderate factions: "Congress," "Coordinate," and "Ulema" (Arabic for "clerics"). "Congress" and "Ulema" had become more or less defunct and "Coordinate" became the main group active on the ground. BRN-Coordinated maintained a number of underground cells, which were known as Runda Kumpulan Kecil, or "small patrol groups." These appeared to not be a separate organization, as the mainstream Thai media reported, but simply the operative arm of BRN-Coordinate. The BRN-Coordinate's village militia forces were also more commonly known as Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani, or Patani Freedom Fighters.

The second insurgent group was called National Liberation Front of Patani (BNPP). This group was considered the first organized armed resistance group. It was reorganized in 1960, but traced its origin to a local revolt which took place in 1947 in Narathiwat province. It was quite active in the 1970s and early 1980s, but had become defunct.

The third insurgent group was called the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO). Formed in 1968, by Tengku Bira Kotantila aka Kabir Abdul Rahman, PULO was the most active group in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 2000s, it operated mainly from exile in Syria, where Tengku Bira lived, and Sweden, where its foreign affairs department was located. The group split for a while into "old" and "new" factions, but was believed to have been reunited. Exiles in Sweden maintained a number of websites that carried news from the region as well as political statements. PULO claimed to have had a working relationship with BRN-Coordinate.

The fourth insurgent group was called the Islamic Mujahidin Movement of Patani (GMIP). Formed in 1995 by Afghanistan war veteran Nasoree Saesaeng, the group derived its name from an earlier, now inactive group, the Gerakan Mujahidin Patani (GMP). According to Thai intelligence sources, the GMIP was linked to the Malaysia-based militant organization Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, or the Mujahidin Group of Malaysia, which, in turn, was alleged to have close ties with the mainly Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiya. It was, however, uncertain how much remained of the KMM following a massive crackdown by Malaysian authorities in 2001.

The last main insurgent group was called the United Front for the Independence of Patani. This group was more commonly known as "Bersatu", which meant "united" in the Malay language. It was formed in 1989 from 4 smaller groups: BRN-Congress, elements of PULO, the then GMP (which had become defunct), and Barisan Islam Pembebsan Patani, the largely defunct Islamic Front for the Liberation of Patani. Bersatu was believed to be defunct or to have been replaced by a less formal arrangement between currently active groups.

Pemuda meant "youth" in Malay and had been adopted as the name of a youth movement closely associated with BRN-Coordinate. However, Pemuda members rarely, if ever, had access to firearms, but rather assisted the BRN-Coordinate with logistical support and intelligence gathering, and occasionally sprayed separatist slogans on walls or took part in arson attacks.

Other, smaller groups also existed, but it was difficult to ascertain whether the abundance of insurgent organizations reflected actual factionalism and divergent agendas or just a division of labor in the struggle for a common goal. "Patani" in Malay referred to all 3 southern provinces: Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

During 2000, authorities responded with military force and legal action to separatist activity in the south. In February 2000, security forces dealt a severe blow to the New Pattani United Liberation Organization, a Muslim separatist group, when they killed its leader Saarli Taloh-Meyaw. Authorities claimed that he was responsible for 90 percent of the terrorist activities in Narathiwat, a southern Thai province. In April 2000, police arrested the deputy leader of the outlawed Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), another southern separatist group, in Pattani. The case was still pending before the court at the end of 2000. Authorities suspected Muslim separatists conducted several small-scale attacks on public schools, a government-run clinic, and a police station in the south.

> In 2004, the Thai government officially recognized attacks in Thailand as terrorist acts performed by the various insurgent groups that were in the country. The RTG had not been shy about committing resources to the South. By 2006 nearly 45,000 soldiers and police were operating in a region approximately the size of Connecticut. Military forces totaling approximately 35,000 troops fall under the command of the 4th Army, headquartered in Nakhon Si Thammarat. The 5th Infantry Division (five regiments) and the 15th Development Division (three regiments) totaling approximately 20,000 troops were the main units of the 4th Army. About 15,000 other military forces were assigned to the South, including three Marine Battalions, Special Forces units detailed from the Special Warfare Command at Lopburi (Task Force 90), and additional forces redirected from the Third Army Area in the Northwest. Each province had at least one regiment of Rangers--irregular paramilitary forces recruited from the local population.

The Royal Thai Police (RTP) provide the backbone of law and order in the South. Often referred to as the "provincial police," these are the local cops charged with administering speeding tickets, investigating petty crimes and the other quotidian acts of day-to-day law enforcement. The provincial police are also the cornerstone of anti-separatist efforts. They are often the first on the scene and the only law enforcement agency with a full time presence in all three provinces

The three southernmost provinces are grouped into police Region IX. There are about 2,300 provincial police in Yala, 2,500 in Pattani, and 3,500 in Narathiwat. These police are augmented by the Royal Thai Border Patrol police, almost 1,500 provincial police from other provinces, and officers from the Bangkok-based RTP Special Branch (SB) and RTP Criminal Suppression Division (CSD). Additionally, the Ministry of Justice's relatively new Department of Special Investigations (DSI), also based in the capital, had been active in several specific cases in the South, but did not have a full-time presence in the area. The Region IX forward operating command in Yala was charged with overseeing all police activities in the three southern provinces and draws upon other police units for expertise.

Massive killings occurred throughout the mid to late 2000s and as of 2010, nearly 4,000 people had been killed due to insurgent violence.

Thailand experienced no attacks attributed to transnational terrorist groups in 2019 and violence was restricted to attacks attributed to ethno-nationalist insurgents in the country’s restive southern region. The number of terrorist incidents in the Deep South (the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and parts of Songkhla) in 2019 was the lowest since the conflict reignited in 2004. Thai security officials remain concerned about the potential for ISIS to infiltrate domestic insurgent groups, although they have maintained that there is no evidence to date of any operational linkages between these domestic groups and international terrorism networks. Thailand’s principal vulnerability to international terrorism continues to be as a transit and facilitation hub, given the high volume of travelers through Bangkok’s main airport and available market of illegal goods. Thailand remained a productive CT partner, though the Thai government continues to focus on domestic political challenges as its primary security priority.

Overall, the number of insurgent terrorist attacks and related fatalities decreased from the previous year; however, a November 5 attack at a security checkpoint in Yala killed 15, making it the single deadliest attack attributed to southern insurgents since 2004. Attacks in 2019 were primarily confined to Thailand’s southernmost provinces, although a set of coordinated small-scale explosions in Bangkok in August is widely believed to be linked to the Deep South insurgency. Terrorist methods primarily included shootings, arson, IEDs, and VBIEDs.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:58 ZULU