Thai authorities are warning of further insurgent attacks in southern Thailand after identifying suspects in Saturday’s bombings Saturday that killed 14 people and wounded more than 300.
Thai authorities Monday say they have identified the alleged insurgent gangs behind a series of bombings in shopping areas in southern Thailand.
Police said the bombings were the work of a hardcore insurgent group operating in Yala province. On Monday, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra flew to visit the injured and speak with local security officials.
An attack in a shopping center parking lot left three people dead, including a Malaysian man, in the provincial capital Hat Yai. In neighboring Yala township, a pickup truck exploded, tearing through a street of restaurants and stores in a commercial area packed with shoppers ahead of Thailand's upcoming New Year holidays.
Sunai Pasuk, a researcher with Amnesty International, said the attack on the hotel complex marked a new step in insurgent operations.
“On the tactical side clearly the attack," said Sunai Pasuk. "Particularly the one in Hat Yai shows a high level of technical sophistication. That the insurgents park the car loaded with the IED [improvised explosive device] near the liquid gas tanks in order to generate heat with an intention to set the entire complex - hotel complex - on fire. So that is new - we haven’t seen anything like this before.”
Since 2004, the insurgency in the largely Muslim provinces of Yala, Songkhla, Pattani and Narathiwat, bordering Malaysia, has claimed more than 5,000 lives despite massive spending on security operations.
Most attacks have focused on individuals or state officials such as school teachers, local authorities and Buddhist monks, as well as Muslims who support the central government.
Analysts say that by targeting commercial areas in the latest attacks, the insurgents appear to be trying to undermine the local economy.
Prime Minister Yingluck’s government has recently restarted dialogue with insurgent leaders based in northern Malaysian. But Sunai Pasuk says that outreach appears to have failed.
“In response to that [dialogue] insurgents on the ground in Thailand react violently by showing that regardless of the dialogue they are still in charge of the daily situation," he said. "They are the ones who call the shots and decide who will be attacked and at what time.”
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a security analyst at Chulalongkorn University, says the bombings also point to increased coordination among insurgent groups.
“The militant groups have already announced at the beginning of the year that they would step up their activities to pressure the officers, especially against the military in many areas," said Panitan Wattanayagorn. "The capability of these people although when you look at the bombs is not that different but the ability to coordinate several bombs at the same time is something quite new.”
A state of emergency has been in place since 2005 granting the military wide powers of arrest and detention. But the law has also triggered allegations of rights abuses by security forces.
Many youths in the southern provinces also face high levels of unemployment, contributing to alienation and drug abuse.
Once an Islamic sultanate, the region was annexed by Thailand in the early 20th century and has faced long periods of insurgency.
Many in the south complain of discrimination by the central government. Calls by moderate Islamic groups and human rights organizations for a decentralization of power have been dismissed by the security forces, which say such moves threaten national unity.