Originally Published 2005-04-05 10:24:58 Published on Apr 05, 2005
The Annexure gives available details of terrorist incidents reported from southern Thailand since October 25, 2004, when 85 Muslim youth arrested by the Thai security forces during a demonstration outside a police station died due to suffocation while they and many others were being transported to their place of intended detention.
Terrorism in Thailand: Tech & Tactics Savvy
The Annexure gives available details of terrorist incidents reported from southern Thailand since October 25, 2004, when 85 Muslim youth arrested by the Thai security forces during a demonstration outside a police station died due to suffocation while they and many others were being transported to their place of intended detention.

The details would show that despite the stepped-up counter-terrorism measures taken by the Thai authorities, the organisation or organisations responsible for the incidents have managed to maintain a continuous series of attacks at regular intervals, without, however, causing any mass casualties.

The terrorists have been following a modus operandi of targeted killings of Buddhist civilians, many of them monks and teachers, and policemen and other members of the secuity forces involved in counter-terrorism duties as well as attempts at indiscriminate killings of civilians through the use of explosive devices.

The targeted killings have generally involved the use of hand-held weapons. The weapons used were not very sophisticated. They were mostly revolvers, pistols and what in India we call country-made weapons, that is, weapons crudely fabricated locally. There have been hardly any reports of sophisticated hand-held weapons such as the AK series of rifles, which are used in large numbers by the jihadi terrorists in India and Pakistan. One has also not seen the use of hand-grenades and landmines, which are frequently used by the jihadi terrorists in India's Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as well as by the Maoists in India and Nepal. Hand-grenades are also used by the jihadi terrorists in Bangladesh.

An often repeated modus operandi (MO) for targeted assassinations of individuals is for two terrorists to travel in a two-wheeler and for the one in the rear to take out a weapon and kill the target. This helps in rapid get-away after the killing without being captured by the bystanders or the police. This MO is often used by the jihadi terrorists in Pakistan, particularly by those of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Of significance is the large number of terrorist incidents involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). While the explosives used were not of severe destructive quality and could have been procured locally, the techniques used in assembling the IEDs and having them triggered off indicate some sophistication involving special training, either locally or in foreign countries. 

In this connection, attention needs to be drawn to the first car bomb explosion outside a hotel on February 17,2005, in which seven persons were killed and 40 others injured and to recurring instances of the use of cellphones for detonating an IED. A modified cellphone as a remotely-activated trigger was first used by Palestinian terrorists at the Hebrew University in Israel in July, 2002. Since then, knowledge of its use has spread to jihadi terrorists in other countries. The attack on an armoured patrol train on March 27,2005, and the subsequent attacks of April 3,2005, on targets such as an airport and a hotel linked to tourism speak of sophisticated tactics involving orchestration. On April 3,2005, three explosions were triggered off through cellphones.

The use of cellphones facilitates remote activation. It also enables the terrorists to use unconscious human carriers of IEDs, which are activated through a cellphone thereby giving the impression of a conscious suicide attack. Glorified tales of suicide missions are then used by the terrorist organisations in their recruitment drive. It had been reported in 2003 that one of the persons carrying a package in Casablanca at the instance of terrorists was not aware that it contained an IED, which was activated through a cellphone by the terrorists as soon as the carrier reached the vicinity of the intended target. The Chechens were also reported to have used this MO for blowing up two planes last year.

There have also been allegations of jihadi terrorists and the Palestinian groups using teen-agers as unconscious human bombs, detonated through cellphones. The sole incident so far involving the use of a car bomb and the recurring instances of the use of cellphones to trigger off IEDs indicate that the terrorists operating in southern Thailand are becoming increasingly technology savvy.

However, their growing expertise in the use of modern technology is seen only in respect of the assembly of IEDs and their remote-controlled detonation and not in their centralised command and control, if there is any, networking, communications and psychological warfare (PSYWAR). 

There is so far no confirmed evidence of any centralised command and control emanating from outside southern Thailand, though there is evidence of inspiration and assistance for jihadi terrorism emanating from outside---more from the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Bangladesh (HUJI-B) than from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) of South-East Asia. Individuals from southern Thailand, in ones and twos, continue to go to Bangladesh for studying in the madrasas run by the HUJI-B and for training in jihadi terrorism. The Rohingya Muslim cadres of the HUJI-B, recruited from the Arakan area of Myanmar and trained in camps in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, are also playing an increasing role in the recruitment, motivation and training of the volunteers from southern Thailand. Bangladesh continues to be the web of terrorist funding not only in Thailand, but also increasingly in other countries of South-East Asia.

An analysis of the Thai terrorist incidents indicates the following:

The terrorists emulate the post-June,2003, example of the Iraqi resistance-fighters, who operate in small autonomous cells without the need for a noticeable organisational infrastructure and consciously refrain from claiming responsibility for their successes. In this respect, the MO of the Iraqi resistance-fighters differs from that of the pro-Al Qaeda foreign terrorists, who do not hesitate to claim successes. 

The post-January,2004, terrorists in Southern Thailand seem to belong to a mutation different from those of the 1970s and the 1980s. They are impervious to control by the traditional leaders of the Muslim community either in southern Thailand or in the adjoining areas of Malaysia. Exercises such as encouraging a group of personalities of the Nahadatul Ulema of Indonesia to tour southern Thailand in order to exercise a moderating influence on the angry Muslim youth, though laudable, are unlikely to produce results in the short and medium terms. 

As has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the use of a highly-militarised counter-terrorism approach by the Americans has added to the Muslim anger and driven more youths into the welcoming arms of jihadi terrorist leaders and organisations, the apparent emulation of the American militarised approach by the Thai counter-terrorism authorities is fuelling the jihadi fire. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, in southern Thailand too, counter-terrorism as practised by the security forces has itself become a root cause of aggravation. While the recrudescence of terrorism in January,2004, might have been due to classic reasons such as feelings of alienation of the local Muslim youth due to ethnic, economic and social factors, the counter-terrorism methods used by the Thai forces have provided a new motivating and sustaining factor. 

Jihadi terrorism in southern Thailand is still in the early stages of its evolution and does not as yet command the kind of expertise and specialised capabilities which one finds in South and West Asia. There is no effective use of the Internet by the terrorists and very little evidence of the use of sophisticated PSYWAR techniques involving virulent propaganda campaigns against non-Muslims and the security forces. While the motivation of the new breed of jihadi terrorists is strengthening, it is not comparable to the level of their co-religionists in South and West Asia. The absence of confirmed instances of suicide terrorism can be attributed to this. 

The jihadi terrorists of southern Thailand, who were till now avoiding attacks on tourism targets which could lead to deaths of foreigners and possibilities of the induction of foreign counter-terrorism expertise, as happened in Indonesia after the Bali explosion of October,2002, have since started attacking tourism targets such as an airport, a hotel frequented by foreign tourists, a departmental store of French origin etc.But their attacks are still confined to the Muslim majority provinces of the South and their vicinity where they are confident of local support and sanctuary. They have not so far ventured into other areas such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket probably because they are not confident of similar support from the local Muslim community. 

In a statement before a joint session of the Thai Parliament on March 29,2005, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has conceded the possibility that the counter-terrorism methods followed till now might themselves be further fuelling jihadi terrorism. He has promised a more nuanced and softer approach. However, he has not yet spelt out the details of the new approach. Any new approach has to be based on: 

Strengthening the intelligence collection and utilisation and post-attack investigative capabilities, which continue to be poor. The terrorists are better informed of the plans and movements of the security forces than vice versa. 

Demilitarisation of the counter-terrorism methods.This should involve the use of the police as the weapon of first resort against terrorism, better counter-terrorism training for the police, better police-Muslim community relations, better incentives for the police for performing counter-terrorism duties, better observance of human rights etc. 

Improvement of internal security management under civilian control.

A national consensus on the formulation of a new counter-terrorism policy, with the opposition, which swept the polls in the south in the recent elections, playing an active role in it. 

A social and economic package addressing the ethnic, economic and social causes of Muslim anger.This should particularly provide for job-generating investments, provision of an alternate secular educational system, modernisation of the curricula of the madrasas and the setting-up of vocational training institutions, including institutes of technology of excellence. 

Activation of the civil society and sensitivity and receptivity in dealing with the reports and complaints of human rights and other non-Governmental organisations. (5-4-05) 


April 3,2005: Two persons were killed and many injured in explosions in the the main airport, a department store and a hotel in the Songkhla province, just north of the three Muslim-majority provinces, thereby extending the area of operation of the terrorists. Several foreigners were among those wounded in the explosions. An explosion at the Hat Yai airport, the main gateway to Thailand's far south, killed two people.Another IED exploded at the Carrefour department store in Hat Yai town. Unofficial reports say three persons were killed in the department store, but there has been no official confirmation of this. 

Dr. Pairoj Waratip, Deputy Director of Hat Yai hospital, reportedly told The Associated Press that 54 people were injured in the blasts, including an American woman and a French woman, both of whom suffered minor injuries. According to the local police, the injured also included two from Malaysia and two from Brunei. The airport IED had been left in a bag by an unidentified man in the waiting area.The IED at the Dream World Hotel was hidden in a motorcycle. According to the CNN, cellphones were used as trigger in all the three explosions.

March 27, 2005: Terrorists used two bombs to stop an armoured train patrolling in the south, then fired on the policemen who were travelling by the train. About 20 policemen and some civilians were wounded. 

March 26,2005: A Buddhist worker was shot dead and two others, including
a state railway worker, were injured in two attacks.

March 19, 2005: Fifteen persons, 10 of them policemen, were injured in two explosions.One of the explosive devices was detonated with a cellphone.

March 17, 2005: A police car and a bulldozer were damaged in an explosion.

March 15, 2005: One policeman was killed and three others were injured in an explosion. 

March 7,2005: Two Thai policemen and three unknown attackers were killed in a shootout when five gunmen disguised as veiled Muslim women stormed a police station in southern Thailand. 

March 6, 2005: A Buddhist monk was killed by gunmen wielding hand-held weapons. 

March 4, 2005: Two policemen deputed to protect teachers injured in an explosion. 

March 2, 2005: A retired policeman and another person, both Buddhists, killed by suspected terrorists wielding hand-held weapons. 

February 27, 2005: Two Muslims assassinated by unidentified persons. Not clear whether this was an act of terrorism.

February 17, 2005: Seven persons were killed and 40 others injured in a car bomb explosion outside a hotel.

January 20, 2005: Three Buddhists shot dead and two children injured by suspected terrorists.

January 16, 2005: One person was killed and over 50 others were injured in an explosion in a commercial area.

January 7, 2005: There was an explosion in a railroad crossing. No casualties were reported. One Buddhist shot dead in another incident. 

December 24, 2004: Two persons were killed in an explosion outside a bank. 

December 15, 2004: Four Buddhists, one of them a village chief and another a teacher, shot dead by suspected terrorists.

December 11, 2004: An arms store raided by suspected terrorists and five shot-guns stolen

December 10, 2004: There were three explosions on railroads. No casualties.

December 7, 2004: There were two explosions and an attempted explosion. No casualties.

December 2, 2004: One Buddhist teacher shot dead by suspected terrorists riding a scooter 

November 6, 2004: In the first week of November,2004, about a dozen Buddhists, many of them monks, were shot dead in different incidents----apparently in retaliation for the death of 85 Muslims due to suffocation while being transported by the security forces after their arrest following a demonstration outside a police station on October 25,2004. 

October 28,2004: Two persons killed and 38 injured in two explosions.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected])

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