Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Thailand: Islamist Insurgency with No End, Part 1

For more than three years, the south of Thailand has seen an insurgency which has now claimed more than 2,100 lives. On January 4, 2004, a military base in Narathiwat province was raided, and four soldiers were killed. In the raid, more than 300 weapons were stolen, including AK-47 and M-16 rifles. On the same night, at least 20 schools were set ablaze - the "night of the fires". This event signaled the start of the current insurgency. The last major insurgency before this had taken place in the 1980s.
 The three southern provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, as well as some districts of Songkhla province and the small island of Satun are predominantly Muslim. Here the population is 80% Muslim, most of whom speak Yawi, a Malay dialect. Historically Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and two districts of Songkhla were part of an independent sultanate called Pattani.
 In 1786, this sultanate had been invaded by Siam (Thailand) and in 1902, the region became officially annexed into Siam. This was done primarily to create a buffer against the influence of the British, who controlled Malaya. In 1909, Britain officially acknowledged the provinces as being part of Siam. The current insurgency is one of many that have taken place over the past fifty years but it is, by far, the most savage in its execution. Though there have been horrific cases of sectarian killings, with Buddhists being decapitated or burned alive, Muslims are equally likely to be victims of the insurgents. Any who are seen to be "assisting" the government, including schoolteachers and village heads, are potential targets.
 The aim of some prominent insurgent groups in the south of Thailand is to secede from Thailand. Others, such as the five groups forming the Barisan Bersatu Kemerdekaan Pattani coalition now claim only to seek better treatment of Muslims in the south. It is true that Thailand's military has in the past been over-zealous in trying to control elements in the south.
Under the last government of the Thai Rak Party, led by Thaksin Shinawatra (pictured) two events caused particular animosity. The first case happened on March 12, 2004. Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who was representing people arrested since the current insurgency began, was abducted at a parking lot in Bangkok. Witnesses saw him being bundled by policemen into a car. He was never seen again.
 On January 12, 2006, a senior policeman, Major Nguen Thongsuk, was found guilty of illegally detaining Somchai. He was sentenced to three years' jail. Four other policemen were acquitted. The day after Thongsuk was convicted, then-prime minister Thanksin Shinawatra made a curious statement: "I know that Somchai is dead, and more than four government officials were involved, but witnesses and evidence are still being collected."
The other event to incite bitter feeling in the Muslim population was the Tak Bai massacre of October 25, 2004. A demonstration led by farmers and villagers took place in Tak Bai, Narathiwat province. The demonstrators sought the release of six village defense volunteers, who had been arrested for suspected gun theft. Police opened fire on the protesters, killing seven people. The demonstrators were forced to lie face down on the ground, stripped to the waist, and were then loaded into trucks. In some trucks, they were in layers, four persons deep. All were placed face down, with their hands tied behind their backs. The trucks were then driven to Ingkhayuthaboriharn camp in Pattani province. In the sweltering heat, at least 78 people suffocated. Within a month 30 Buddhists were killed in apparent revenge attacks.
 On September 17, 2006, following months of nationwide protests against Shinawatra's government, the army staged a bloodless coup while the prime minister was away at a UN meeting in New York. The leader of the coup was a Muslim, General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who had headed the Fourth Amy in the south. He was assumed to understand the insurgency. He set up a caretaker government on October 1, led by "prime minister" Surayud Chulanont, with a Muslim interior minister, Aree Wong-araya. The new government promised to adopt a more conciliatory approach in the south, even at one stage offering Muslims the opportunity to govern themselves under sharia law. Seven months on from the coup, and though conciliation is still advocated by prime minister Chulanont, it has been a failure.
 Figures reported in the Bangkok Post of May 17 this week state that compared to last year, the incidence of violent attacks has slightly dropped, but the savagery has increased. Between January 1 and May 15 this year, there have been 1,170 incidents, compared to 2,061 in the same period in 2006. Half of this year's attacks have involved shootings, a quarter has employed bombs, and arson has accounted for 15% of attacks.
 Before last year's coup, incidents of beheadings had lessened. There were 7 decapitations from November, 2005 to March 2006. After a Muslim rubber tapper named Abdulaziz Japakiya was decapitated on March 7, 2006, there were no such incidents until October 12. On this date a 45-year old Burmese migrant worker was attacked while on his motorcycle with his daughter behind him, in Pattani province. The girl was blindfolded as Yao, her father, was shot and then beheaded. The head was carried 12 miles to their village, where it was booby trapped with a bomb. Yao had been the twentieth person to be decapitated in the current insurgency. On Sunday November 19, a Buddhist man was shot in Yala. His killers tried to remove his head, but left it more or less attached.
 Since the coup, decapitations have escalated, easily seen as dramatic gestures of hate. On Sunday March 11, six Burmese construction workers were shot dead in Nong Chick, Pattani province. One of these was beheaded, the 26th individual to be treated this way since January 2004. A note on the man's body was left behind, reading: "Kill the innocent and we kill Thai Buddhists."
 On Monday, May 14 this week, a Buddhist husband and wife were picking fruit in Yala province, accompanied by their three-year old daughter. The two adults were shot dead, and the small girl was injured. The head of 36-year old Prapham Ponlarak was removed in front of his child. He had become the 29th person to be beheaded in the insurgency.
 The insurgents have been claimed by Thai officials to be motivated by local concerns, suggesting that there is little outside influence. Certain facts undermine this. The group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) seeks to establish an Islamist "superstate" in southeast Asia. This group has known links to Al Qaeda and to other Islamist terror groups, such as Abu Sayyaf and Darul Islam. JI was founded in Malaysia around 1995 by two Indonesian clerics, Abdullah Sungkar (died in 1999) and Abu Bakar Bashir. The two had founded the Ngruki or Al Mukmin Muslim seminary in Solo, about 250 miles east of Jakarta, Indonesia. According to JI expert Dr Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, at least 30 known or suspected terrorists have graduated from this school.
One leader of JI was Hambali (pictured), also known as Riduan Isamuddin. He was caught in Thailand on August 11, 2003 in Ayutthaya, 50 miles north of Bangkok. Hambali ran the Hudaybiyah terror training camp in the Philippines. He was suspected of being involved in Operation Bojinka, a plot to bomb 11 US commercial planes in southeast Asia. He was transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006.
 Hambali is believed to have planned the Bali bombings of October 12, 2002, in which 202 people died. He revealed under interrogation that while he plotted these attacks, he had stayed for three days in the south of Thailand, with hardline cleric Dr Ismail Lutfi. This cleric runs the Yala Islamic College, which teaches Saudi Wahhabism. Lutfi had been educated at the Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This institution has educated extremists such as Abdullah el-Faisal, currently in jail in Britain for soliciting murder. Lutfi denied any meetings with Hambali.
 When lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit was abducted in Bangkok in March 2004, two of his clients were Jemaah Islamiyah members who had been accused of plotting bomb attacks in Thailand. These two individuals were finally acquitted in July 2005.
 The head of the coalition of five insurgent groups - Barisan Bersatu Kemerdekaan Pattani (Bersatu) - is Wan Kadir Che Wan. His group is among the insurgents who have participated in peace talks with the post-coup government of Thailand, which have been brokered by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammed's Perdana Global Peace Foundation. On November 21 last year, Wan Kadir Che Wan claimed that Jemaah Islamiyah was influencing the younger generation of insurgents. He said: "I think that many of the groups are there but maybe they are not directly involved."
 Immediately after the current insurgency began, then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra ordered an investigation into the activities of Islamic schools (called pondok) in the south of Thailand. There are 300 such schools in the southern provinces. One of these institutions, the Thamma Wittaya school in Yala city, Yala province, has a strong relation with the current violence. Six of its teachers have been killed in the current insurgency. It was founded by Sapaeing Bazo, leader of the insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate.
 In March 2006, 19 teachers from the Thamma Wittaya were arrested after holding a meeting on Satun island. They were subsequently released without charge. Sapaeing Bazo is believed to be hiding across the border in Malaysia. He has a bounty of 10 million Thai baht ($256,227) against him.
 Another prominent member of Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate is called Masae Useng, who was trained in Afghanistan. Useng is believed to have ordered a campaign of mass bombings which occurred in the south for three days, beginning on June 15 last year - so-called "National Pattani Day". On July 13, a month after these bombings, Malaysia's defense minister, Najib Tun Razak, met with Thaksin Shinawatra. Najib said that attempts to find Masae Useng had failed, and it was assumed that he was now in the Middle East. The deputy Thai Prime Minister claimed after these talks that it was believed four or five other insurgent leaders were thought to be hiding in the Middle East. No specific country was named.
 Another pondok school with links to extremism is the Hutae Tua pondok in Narathiwat. This school is run by a veteran of Afghanistan fighting, Muhammad Haji Jaeming (Abdul Fatah). He is responsible for founding a separatist group called Jemaah Salafi or Jemaah Salafiya.
 The presence of Wahhabism in southern Thailand is still small, but it appears to be playing a part in radicalizing young people who go on to become insurgents. The issue of who directly funds the insurgents is not entirely clear, but it appears some logistical and financial support comes from non-government sources in Malaysia. On November 21, 2006, prime minister Surayud Chulanont claimed that the main source of insurgent funding came from a chain of Thai restaurants operating in Malaysia, which sold Thai spicy shrimp soup. These claims were denied by Malaysia's Deputy Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow, who called them "baseless".
 One of the several groups which has played a part in insurgent activity is Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani or GMIP. This group has links with a small Malaysian extremist group - Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia - which seeks to establish an Islamist state in southeast Asia. GMIP was founded in 1986. In 1999 to 2000, GMIP was approached by Jemaah Islamiyah. JI wanted GMIP to become allies within the umbrella group of Islamist bodies known as Rabibat-ul-Mujahidin. Though GMIP is described as a criminal organization, whether it accepted JI's offer is not known.
 Though not directly tied to terrorism, Saudi Arabia has certainly been pouring money into Muslim institutions in the south of Thailand, and promoting its narrow and uncompromising interpretation of Islam. Ismail Lutfi of the Islamic College of Yala, whom Hambali claimed to know, is a board member of the Muslim World League. This has led to Saudi funds being sent to his college. Another group in the south receiving funds from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf is the Pusaka foundation, which is ostensibly an educational body. It has, however, been accused of links with the Thai insurgency. One politician, a former member of Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai party, who was involved with Pusaka, is Najmuddin Umar.
 Umar was suspected of involvement in the January 4, 2004 raid upon the military base, which kick-started the insurgency. He was charged on 10 counts, including treason, separatist activities, arson, robbery and murder of government officials. He was sent to trial in October 2004, but in December 2005, he was eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence.

>>>> Part 2

Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who regularly contributes in Family Security Matters. His essays also appear in Western Resistance, Spero News and He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.

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