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Jihad comes to Thailand
May 05, 2004
The circumstances surrounding the reported clashes between the Thai security forces and groups of Muslim youth in southern Thailand on April 28, which led to the death of over 100 Muslim youth, many of them teenagers armed with nothing but machetes, remain very murky.
If one were to believe the official version disseminated by Thai officials, civilian as well as military, this is what appears to have happened: Groups of machete-wielding Muslim youth raided nearly 15 village defence and police establishments in an attempt to seize the arms and ammunition kept there. The Thai security forces, who had advance inkling of the planned attacks, were waiting for the attacks when they came, and managed to repulse them.
Thirty-two of the survivors amongst the youth took shelter in a 16th century mosque near Pattani. After a stand-off lasting nearly six hours during which none of them was prepared to surrender, the security forces managed to kill all of them and free the mosque from their control.
Members of a local football team were among the 100 Muslim youngsters killed. About 16 of the attackers were captured. There were less than 10 casualties amongst the security forces.
The tactics adopted by the poorly-armed Muslim youth bring to mind more that of the LTTE in the early years of its struggle against the Sri Lankan armed forces or of the Maoists of Nepal or of the tribal insurgents of India's North-East than that of the jihadi terrorists active in the South-East Asian and South Asian region. The LTTE, the Maoists and Indian tribal insurgents used to adopt such tactics to replenish their stocks of arms and ammunition.
What these young Muslims have exhibited in common with their co-religionists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere is their fierce motivation and not the modus operandi adopted by them. They do not appear to be bandits or narcotics smugglers as projected by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand and his officials. They are politically and religiously motivated fighters, with no evidence so far of any external influence -- either from the Jemaah Islamiyah of the South-East Asian region or the jihadi organisations of Pakistan and/or Bangladesh -- on their mind.
Attacking in large numbers with machetes is not the known modus operandi of any of the identified jihadi organisations of the International Islamic Front. They do slit the throat of their victims with a knife, just as they slit the throat of a sacrificial goat with one, but they do not indulge in massive attacks on posts of the security forces and the police carrying only machetes.
If the Thai authorities' contention that they had advance information about the raids and had taken up position to repulse the raiders when they came is correct, it is unfortunate that they should have used excessive force against the ill-armed youth instead trying to overpower them or immobilise them by shooting below their knees.
The circumstances surrounding the attack on the mosque in which 32 young Muslims had taken shelter resulting in their death are even murkier. Leaders of the local Muslim community have alleged that no attempt was made by the Thai authorities to persuade the youth with the help of intermediaries from the local Muslim community to surrender.
The fact that despite being out-gunned and out-numbered, the youth chose to die instead of surrendering shows that these were not bandits or narcotics smugglers, but fiercely-motivated youth, who wanted to draw the attention of their co-religionists not only in Southern Thailand, but also in the rest of the Ummah to their anger and desperation.
Just as the raid of the Indian security forces into the Golden Temple, the Sikhs' holy place of worship, at Amritsar in India in June 1984, aggravated the problem posed by the Sikh terrorists in Punjab, this raid by the Thai authorities is likely to aggravate the divide between the Muslims and the non-Muslims and the Muslims and the political leadership in Thailand.
There is already a wave of anger in Pakistan and Bangladesh over what is perceived as the deliberate massacre of Muslim youth in southern Thailand by the security forces. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba of Pakistan and the Bangladesh branch of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami have been projecting southern Thailand as the Fallujah of Thailand.
This anger against the Thai authorities could result in acts of reprisal not only against the Thai leaders and officials in Thailand, but also against Thai nationals and interests outside the country by Harkat and Lashkar.