TERRORISM IN THAILAND: BOMBINGS, GRENADE ATTACKS, HAMBALI, JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH AND SECRET CIA PRISONS

TERRORISM IN THAILAND

In June 2003, a Thai national was arrested in police sting with 27 kilograms of radioactive cesium-137 that he hoped to sell for $240,000. Cesium-137 can be used to make a powerful, radioactive dirty bomb. The cesium is believed to be have originated in Russia. Twenty-seven kilograms is quite a large quantify. The man, a Thai with no known ties to terrorist groups was arrested trying to bring the material from Laos into Thailand. He said he material was weapons-grade uranium.

Al-Qaida members, including some of those involved with the September 11th attacks were fairly frequent visitors to Thailand. For a while Osama bin Laden T-shirts were widely available. The Pakistani-based groups Harkatul-Mujahideen (HUM) and Harkart-ul-Islamic (HUJI) are believed to have sleeper cells in Thailand. Fears of Islamic terrorism against Thailand’s tourist resorts were heightened after the terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia in October 2002. There were allegations that the Bali bombers, members of Jemaah Islamiah, may have planned their attack while living in southern Thailand.

In early January 2012, Thai police arrested a Lebanese-Swedish man—47-year-old Atris Hussein—with alleged links to Hezbollah. The man led police to a warehouse near Bangkok packed with more than 3,000 kilograms of urea fertilizer, several liters of ammonium nitrate and other materials that could be used to make bombs. At the time, authorities insisted Thailand was only being used as a staging ground for attacks, but was not the target. U.S. investigators disagreed and said intelligence suggested Bangkok was the target of an attack planned for mid January. In March 2012, Atris Hussein— Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent— was charged with possessing explosive materials. He pleaded not guilty.

Despite threats from international Islamic terrorism many feel that a greater threat comes from homegrown terrorism. Another interesting thing up Thailand is that despite even though there are a high number of bombings and killings in southern Thailand very little violence associated with the struggle there has spilled outside of southern Thailand.

Thai Infrastructure Vulnerable to Terrorism

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Thailand does not have a grand strategy to protect critical infrastructure sectors and assets such as oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand, oil refineries and gas pipelines in various parts of the country, or the subway and Skytrain in Bangkok. In the US, plans exist for the safeguarding of such sectors as well as infrastructure related to agriculture and food, water, public health and emergency services. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation October 24, 2005 ^]

“In Thailand, the most important and yet the most vulnerable facility is the Map Ta Put Industrial Estate. Security at the site, which covers nearly 10,000 rai and is accessible by many means of transportation, is mediocre. Terrorists would have a field day targeting this area. Any risk assessment by security experts at the facility would reveal its current security system to be utterly inadequate. More than $14.66 billion was invested in Map Ta Put, making it the world?s eighth largest investment and economic zone. It is also Asean’s biggest foreign-investment zone. Thai intelligence sources have said in private that international terrorists consider this facility as a possible target, because a major attack on it could immediately cripple Thailand’s economy. ^

“Thailand also has a total of 2,660 kilometres of exposed gas pipeline - 1,369 under the sea and 1,291 on land. The hundreds of kilometres of underwater and overland pipelines running from the Yadana and Yetagun natural gas fields are particularly vulnerable to sabotage. There is comparatively more security and surveillance at the Benjamas, Tantawan, Platong, Palilin and Bongkot natural gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand. EGAT PLC’s nine power plants are also easy targets because of the lack of security awareness among EGAT administrations, who consider security upgrades as too costly.”^

Grenade Attacks in Thailand

Bombing incidents are rare but not unknown in Thailand. Grenade attacks are the most common form of such attacks. Several grenades were lobbed in or near Bangkok during the period of intense anti-government protesters in 2009 and 2010 that left several people dead and dozens wounded. See the Red Shirt Protests Under History.

On an attack that occurred in July 2010, after the main 2010 protests ended, AP reported: “A grenade exploded near a Bangkok shopping mall, injuring one person and rattling the Thai capital less than a week after a similar blast left a bystander dead and several more hospitalized. The latest grenade was hidden in a garbage bag and placed alongside other trash bags in front of a residential building opposite the King Power duty-free shopping center in the Din Daeng neighborhood of Bangkok, said police Capt. Nitti Niruttiwat. It exploded at 1:30 a.m. and seriously injured a bystander—a garbage collector— he said. [Source: AP, July 29, 2012*]

"The bomb squad found the safety pin of a grenade amid the debris at the crime scene and the area was reeking with petrol," he told The Associated Press, adding that investigators had not yet determined how the blast was triggered. Five days before a grenade exploded near a bus stop in another part of downtown Bangkok, killing one person and wounding 10. No one has claimed responsibility for either blast. *

A few days later, in August 2010, another grenade attack occurred near the King Power duty-free shopping center in in Bangkok. This time the grenade was tossed into the headquarters of the King Power Group, injuring a security guard. Later in August a grenade believed to have been fired from an M79 launcher exploded in the compound of a state-run NBT television broadcaster. No one was hurt. The greneade first hit a tree and sent shrapnel flying into a parking lot. No one claimed responsibility for any of the four grenade attacks. NBT had been accused by Red Shirt demonstrators of biased coverage of the 2010 protests.

Violence and Terrorism in the Muslim South

Violence and killing became an almost daily occurrence in southern Thailand after shadowy Muslim separatists launched a campaign of bombings, shootings and arson in early 2004, aimed mainly at government forces, police and soldiers but whose victims also included innocent Buddhist and Muslim villagers. As of 2013 more than 5,000 individuals, including more than 500 government soldiers and policemen and 150 teachers, have been killed during the conflict. Officials, monks, community leaders, religious leaders, and local residents have also been killed. Some 350,000 individuals have been displaced as a result of the violence.

Most of the violence has taken took place in three predominately-Muslim provinces—Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani—in southern Thailand near the Malaysians border. About 1.8 million people live there, about 90 percent of them Muslims. But there are many Buddhists as well. Mystery surrounds who is behind the violence in three provinces, which was part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1902.

No credible group has stated its aims or claimed responsibility for the attacks, which 30,000 troops stationed in the region have failed to prevent. Since the unrest erupted in 2003, the rebels have never revealed themselves publicly or claimed responsibility for the violence, which has remained limited to the rubber-producing region. There are worries that attacks between Muslims and Buddhist could result in a never ending cycle of revenge. "It's considered the world's third most intensive Muslim insurgency, after Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iraq," Benjamin Zawacki, an activist with Amnesty International, told the Los Angeles Times. "And it's not just going to go away."[Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times April 4, 2010]

See Separate Article on the Muslim South

Bombings on New Year’s Eve in 2007

On December 31, 2006, and January 1, 2007, four bombs exploded in Bangkok, followed by several more explosions in various parts of the city, killing at least three people and injuring more than 38. Prime Minister Surayut Chulanon said that the bombs were designed to resemble those used by the southern insurgents. However, it was announced later that closer inspection confirmed that there was no link to the south.

A total of nine mostly small bombings occurred in Bangkok at that time. Rumors about the source and reason for the bombings quickly spread. The military said that supporters of former prime minister Thaksin were behind the blasts, which they said were an attempt to undermine the postcoup government. Some Thais believed the military set off the bombs to justify their hold on power. There were rumors of another coup.

The first six bombs exploded within an hour of each on a Sunday, mostly in places where they could cause disruptions—a bus stop, a parking area of a shopping mall, a small open market, two police posts—but not places where they could cause major carnage. Three others went off the next day. Among those detained in connection with the New Year bombings were police and military officers who were all later cleared. Thaksin said that Muslim insurgents were probably behind the bombing.

On January 20, 2007, police announced that 15 military officers and civilians had been arrested related to the bombing incident. General Sonthi, head of the junta, strongly criticized the chief of police for “seeking scapegoats” within the military, claiming that the 15 suspects had no connection to the incident. After the attack public parks and main streets were refurbished with transparent plastic garbage cans in an effort to thwart similar attacks.

Explosion at Thai Temple Fair Kills Six in 2009

An explosion at an outdoor celebration next to a Buddhist temple in northeastern Thailand killed six people and wounded 27 others, police said. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast but police suspect that one of three men in a drunken brawl may have thrown a hand grenade. There was no indication that the blast was related to Thailand's continuing political strife. The explosion in Nong Bua Lamphu province, 420 kilometers (260 miles) northeast of Bangkok, occurred just before midnght on Saturday, when hundreds of people were in an open field celebrating the completion of a new temple pavilion with dancing and folk music, said police Col. Thammajak Kongmongkol. [Source: Associated Press, February 1 2009]

Five women and one man near the stage where singers and dancers were performing were killed, he said. Six of the injured were in serious condition with shrapnel wounds. Three men were seen in a drunken brawl in front of the stage before the explosion occurred, Thammajak said. "We suspect one of them might have thrown a hand grenade during the fight but we are still investigating whether it was a bomb or an accident," he said, adding that one of the men had been detained. The other two escaped. Buddhist temple fairs on Buddhist holy days and public holidays are common in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Explosion Kills Three in Bangkok Suburb in 2010

At least three people have been killed and nine injured in an explosion at an apartment complex in a Bangkok suburb. The BBC reported: “Police said the blast was likely to have been caused by a large bomb, but were unable to confirm details. There was no immediate explanation why the six-floor block in Nonthaburi province might have been a target. [Source: BBC, October 5, 2010

Nonthaburi province is one of a number of areas of the country currently under emergency rule, imposed by the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva after street protests in Bangkok turned deadly earlier in 2010. Despite the emergency there are regular small blasts around the capital, but correspondents say Tuesday's explosion was unusually large.

"It was definitely a bomb. We cannot say what type of bomb it is yet," Major General Prawut Tawornsiri told the AFP news agency. "But it was a massive bomb because it damaged a large area." Early reports suggested that the blast was large enough to have been caused by as much as 50kg of explosives.

Police were assessing the building to see if it was in danger of collapsing, reports said, and were investigating whether the explosion could have been caused by explosives detonated accidentally. "It is possible they were storing an explosive device for an operation and it exploded prematurely," Reuters news agency quoted one police official as saying.

Jemaah Islamiyah in Thailand

Jemaah Islamiyah operates (or operated) a network of insurgents in Southeast Asia. Based primarily in Indonesia, with branches in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia, it was it was responsible for the Bali bombing in 2002 and that bombing of the Marriot Hotel and the Australia Embassy in Jakarta in 2003. It has mostly been quite in recent years and it was never involved much in Thailand anyway. Jemaah Islamiyah means “Community of Islam.” It is regional Islamist-terrorist group that has been affiliated with al Qaeda and is believed to have been established in 1993 or 1994.

In June 2003 suspected members of Jemaah Islamiah were arrested and confessed to plotting attacks on embassies in Bangkok and tourist sites. In June 2005 four Thai Muslims—an Islamic teacher, his son, a doctor and alleged bomb maker accused of belonging Jemaah Islamiah were found not guilty in connection with plots to attack the British, Israeli and U.S. embassies in Thailand.

There have been hints Jemaah Islamiyah may be active in southern Thailand. In May 2003, two Thais with alleged Jemaah Islamiyah links were arrested in Cambodia and a month later, three others were arrested in the south following a tip-off from Singapore. [Source: Strait Times]

Hambali

Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, was arrested in Ayuthaya, north of Bangkok, in 2003. He was regarded as the operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah, its main link with Al-Qaida and a primary Al-Qaida operative in Southeast Asia. He made plans and gave out orders with Jemaah Islamiyah and was reportedly the only non-Arab member of the Al-Qaida’s military committee.

Hambali is a Sundanese Indonesian. The son of peasant farmers from West Java, he was a stocky man with a round face. He worse glasses and had a wispy beard and blended easily into crowds Born in 1966, Hambali was the eldest son of 13 children. His great grandfather founded a religious school. His mother told Time that as boy he was “very religious, but also very quite, aloof and reserved.” As a teenager he became involved in local groups that later would become Jemaah Islamiah. In 1985, he accompanied Bashir to Malaysia and the two men ran a religious school together. In the late 1980s he fought for the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He returned to Malaysia in the early 1990s and lived in a $25 a month shack and supported himself by selling satay on the streets.

Hambali went undergound in May 2001. He reportedly returned to Afghanistan an was at an Al-Qaida camp at the time of September 11th. After the American invasion he reportedly personally fired a Stinger missile at a U.S. plane but missed because the plane was flying too high.

Hambali is the alleged organizer of the Bali bombing that killed 202 people in October 2002 and the bomb attack on the Jakarta Marriot hotel which left 12 dead. He was also believed to be involved in setting up meeting for the September 11th hijackers and participated in the 1995 plot to blow up 11 U.S. airliners over the Pacific.

A top Indonesian law enforcement official said that “Hambali was involved in 39 bombings in Indonesia” between August 2000 and the Bali blasts in October 2002. In many cases he chose which bombig missions to conduct and financed them. An arrested bomber said he made contact with militants through prayer groups and paid $6,000 donated by a Malaysia woman concerned about the treatment of Muslims in Indonesia. Amrozi, one of the Bali bombers testified that Hambali financed a car bombing in 2000 that injured the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia. Amrozi said that Hambali gave him money and told him to buy a Suzuki Carry for the bombing.

Hambali reportedly was in close touch with other international terrorists while in Ayuthaya. His brother had Thai friends and contaacts. The Nation said: 'What's troubling to Thai security officials is that in March 2003, terrorist suspect Gun Gun (Rusman Gunawan), the younger brother of Hambali, was among a group of Thai nationals studying in Karachi, Pakistan.'Gun Gun is now in Indonesian custody on charges of terrorism, but the Thai students who formed the Al-Bayan study group with him have not been found.'

Arrest of Hambali in Thailand See Below

Iranian Attempts to Attack Israeli Targets in Thailand

In March 1994, a large bomb was uncovered in a plot to blow up the Israeli embassy. Three Iranians were arrested for the involvement in the plot. The bomb that was slated to be used in the terrorist attack was discovered in a truck near a department store in central Bangkok. The driver of the truck bumped a couple of motorcycles and knocked them over. The owners of the motorcycles wanted compensation but refused a wad of foreign currency offered by the driver, who later fled on foot after an argument. The vehicle was taken to a police station where it sat for a week, before police checked it and found a bomb in the water tank. A dead Thai employee for the company that rented the truck was also found. Both his arms had been broken and he apparently had been strangled with a rope. [Source: William Branigin, Washington Post. August 27, 1994]

In February 2012, three Iranians were detained after accidentally setting off explosives in a house they occupied in Bangkok. One of the men—a 28-year-old Said Morati—had his legs blown off after he lobbed bombs at a taxi that failed to pick him up, then at a police a car. The bomb he threw at the police car hit a tree and bounced back towards him and exploded. Thailand's top policeman said the Iranians were planning to attack Israeli diplomats. The incident occurred around the same time bombers targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia. The American and British embassies issued warning about traveling in Thailand.

AP reported: “The allegation came after days of strong accusations by Israel that Iran was behind the botched plot as well as two others in India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the same week. Iran has denied the charges. Citing the similarity of bombs used in New Delhi and Tbilisi, national police chief Gen. Prewpan Dhamapong said that Thai authorities now "know for certain that (the target) was Israeli diplomats." "This issue was about individuals and the targets were specific," he said. "This was something personal." [Source: Associated Press, February 16, 2012~]

“The plot in Bangkok was discovered by accident, when explosives stored in a house occupied by several Iranian men blew up by mistake. One of the Iranians, Mohammad Kharzei, was paraded before journalists Thursday wearing a striped short-sleeve shirt, his apparently handcuffed hands covered by a dark sheet. Prewpan said Kharzei had "partially confessed" and had acknowledged knowing one of the other suspects, Saeid Moradi, whose leg was sheered off by an explosive he was carrying as he fled police in the Thai capital's busy Sukhumvit Road area.~

“Surveillance video released by police already links the suspects: it shows them leaving their destroyed house just after the first blast. Moradi was the last to exit, and as he walked out with a heavy backpack over his shoulder, a small crowd that had begun to gather backed away, clearly terrified. The third Iranian, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, was detained in Malaysia and the country's federal police spokesman, Ramli Yoosuf, said he was being investigated for terrorism-related activities linked to the Bangkok blasts.~

“A Bangkok court has approved arrest warrants for all three suspects, as well as an Iranian woman named Leila Rohani who rented the destroyed house. However, Rohani has left Thailand and is now in Tehran, according to the top immigration police official, Lt. Gen. Wiboon Bangthamai. All four now face criminal charges including possession of explosives, attempted murder, attempted murder of a policeman and causing explosions that damaged property. Prewpan said he believed there already was enough evidence to prosecute them. ~

“The Israeli ambassador to Thailand, Itzhak Shoham told The Associated Press that the similarity of the bombs found in Bangkok and New Delhi had led Israel to believe the plots were linked. Prewpan also said that two homemade "sticky" bombs found at the blast site matched the devices planted on Israeli diplomatic cars in India and Georgia a day earlier.” ~

Iranian Pair Get Life and 15 Years over Botched Bomb Plot

In August 2013, CNN reported: “Two Iranians were convicted in a Bangkok court over a botched bomb plot last year that resulted in one losing both of his legs as he hurled an explosive device while trying to escape arrest. Saied Moradi, 29, was found guilty of attempted murder, causing explosions and violating gun laws, and was sentenced to life imprisonment, Thai police spokesman Phanom Chuathong told CNN. Muhammad Khazaei, 43, was sentenced to 15 years jail for causing explosions and causing damage to public and private property. Israel has maintained the explosives were part of a plot aimed at assassinating Israeli diplomats in Bangkok — a claim Tehran has refuted. [Source: Peter Shadbolt, CNN, August 22, 2013 /-/]

“Both men -- who were charged with criminal rather than terrorism offenses -- denied any involvement in a plot, saying they were unaware of explosives in their home. The court also demanded the two men pay reparations valued at around 2 million baht ($62,300) to compensate for the damage caused. /-/

“Thai authorities said five suspects escaped from a villa in the Thai capital following the blast, two of whom are still on the run. Moradi was injured when he detonated two bombs -- one when a taxi driver refused to give him a ride and another when he tried to throw a bomb at police officers as they closed in on him. The court heard that Khazaei ran out of the house after the first explosion and headed to the airport where police arrested him at the boarding gate. A third man, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, managed to board a plane to Malaysia. /-/

“Chuathong told CNN the court ruling would "certainly have an impact on the High Court of Malaysia's decision on the extradition request from Bangkok." Zadeh has been in custody in Malaysia since last year, pending a High Court decision on his extradition to Thailand. /-/

“At the time of the blasts, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Iran is a threat to the stability of the world. They are targeting innocent diplomats. "The international community has to denounce the Iranian actions and to indicate red lines concerning the Iranian aggression." Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, responded by condemning the blasts on Iran's state-run Press TV in an article on its website, but added: "Israeli agents are often the perpetrators of such terrorist acts." /-/

Combating Terrorism in Thailand and Secret CIA Prisons

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Thailand has pledged itself as a strong ally in the United States–led war on terrorism. Even so, part of its anti-terrorism policy, the Bush administration decided that citizens from Thailand and 32 other countries seeking asylum would automatically be detained.

The United States, Australia and a dozen other countries have teams at Bangkok’s international airport, looking out people traveling with fake passports and other irregularities. There is little policing however at the Malaysian border. On weekends around 40,000 people cross that border everyday. When there are warning of a potential terrorist attack in Thailand security is beefed up at tourist resorts and Khao San Road, an area popualr with backpackers, and parts of the main Sukhumvit Road.

Thailand has tried to keep its offensive against terrorism as low key as possible so as not to scare off tourists. The Thaksin government bypassed the parliament and issued executive decree to combat terrorism. The laws overrided old anti-Communist laws and gave authorities the power to arrest and detain suspects as they see justified.

After the arrest of Hambali and release of information of his plans for terrorist attacks within Thailand flags were raised that Thailand was no longer just a place where terrorists sought false passports and relaxed between missions but was a place where terrorist attacks could take place.

Thailand was one of the places were suspected Al-Qaida terrorists were taken by the CIA for interrogations. Nearly 100 detainees were kept in secret CIA detention facilities in Afghanistan, Thailand, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria and Libya. Among the dozen or so high-ranking Al-Qaida suspects that “disappeared” for up to several years were Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of the September 11th attack, and Abu Zubaydah, a close aide of Osama bin Laden. They and others were held outside the United States in secret prisons, under a practice called rendition.

Some of these suspects are believed to have been held at based used by the American military in Thailand . Failing to disclose the whereabouts of a prisoner is a violation of the Geneva Convention. Interrogation tactics used at the secret CIA prisons included being held in isolation and subjected to extreme sleep and sensory deprivation, waterboarding and sexual humiliation. For more information on all this check the article CIA SECRET PRISONS, TORTURE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM factsanddetails.com

Arrest of Hambali in Thailand

In July 2003, Hambali was arrested in Ayutthaya, 45 mile north of Bangkok in Thailand. A dozen undercover agents burst into the apartment where he was staying with his wife. He had a handgun with him but did not have time to use it. Authorities were tipped of by the CIA, which had tracked one of his phone calls to Ayutthaya and tips from Muslim Thais who reported a foreigner at their local mosque and Internet café that did not speak Thai. He was carrying a Spanish passport. His face had reportedly been altered by plastic surgery.

After his arrest Hambali was turned over to the CIA and taken to the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. He was arrested at same time as three other men linked with Jemaah Islamiiyah, The men reportedly had plans to blow up embassies, American-owned hotels and Israeli-owned businesses in Bangkok and the resorts in Pattaya and Phuket. They were also considering staging a major attack at an APEC meeting attended by U.S. President George Bush in Bangkok. Under interrogation by U.S. investigators, Hambali said hey were also considering attacks a shopping complex and a synagogue and Israeli embassy in Manila.

While he was living in Thailand, Hambali eschewed Muslim clothes and wore shorts and a T-shirt and was clean shaven. He told his suspicious neighbors there he was salesman . Hambali had been on the run since December 2001, when Singapore cracked down on Islamic militants in the wake of September 11th. He had crossed borders of Malaysia, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand and managed to stay a step ahead of his pursuers, who on one occasion came within a day of catching him. In January 2002 he entered Thailand from Malaysia. From September to March 2003 he stayed in Phnom Penh in Cambodia in a guesthouse popular with budget travelers. Using a false passport he traveled to Laos and Burma, entering Thailand about two weeks before his arrest.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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