By Mariyam Ahmad
Thai security forces said they arrested 25 suspected militants on Friday in raids in the troubled Deep South, including a group that allegedly killed five people and another believed to have been involved in burning a double-decker bus.
Meanwhile, citing insufficient evidence, the military said it released two men from the Deep South six days after they were arrested on Dec. 28 in Phang Nga, a province in the Thailand’s upper south, on suspicion of links to an alleged plot targeting New Year’s festivities.
On Friday, authorities arrested two batches of suspects, including five men who allegedly conspired to kill five people and injure another person in a series of attacks in Pattani province between 2010 and 2013.
“They coordinated the killings. The team included the mastermind, scout, spotter, transporter and gunman,” Maj. Gen. Jatuporn Klumpasut, who commands the Pattani Task Force, told a news conference at Fort Inkayuth Boriharn in the province.
“They met at a tea shop and plotted killings, and delivered guns at a mosque where they also changed their clothes before fleeing,” he said.
In neighboring Yala province, security personnel rounded up a second batch of suspects, 20 men who were taken into custody on Friday in connection with the attack on the double-decker bus in Bunnang Sata, a local district, on Dec. 17.
That day, suspected insurgents stopped the bus on a highway as it was heading to Bangkok and ordered the driver and passengers to get off before torching the vehicle, police said. Previously, a 34-year-old suspect was charged on Dec. 28, officials said at the time.
A resident of Tambon Ubeng, a cluster of villages in Bunnang Sata, who identified herself only as “Ah,” said security forces arrived early Friday and took 20 people way, including her son-in-law, without any explanation.
“We thought they were looking for the attackers of the passenger bus,” she told BenarNews.
The 20 suspects were arrested under martial law – which is in force in the Thai Deep South – and their names were released later in the day when the military said they were being held at an interrogation center in Pattani.
“We would not visit them there because we know we are not allowed to meet them. But an official promised they will not be tortured,” Ah said.
Following the bus attack, Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the army’s commander in the region, said a local village chief, other area officials as well as defense volunteers and military officials could have been at fault for failing to prevent the incident.
Lack of evidence
The arrests of the 25 suspects on Friday came after army officials ordered a crackdown in late December to safeguard year-end celebrations, including in areas outside the Deep South.
The two men who were arrested in Phang Nga, a popular tourist destination north of Phuket island, were taken for interrogation at a military facility in Pattani. At the time of their arrest, authorities said materials which could be used to build bombs – including a gas tank, nails and electronic circuits – were found during a search of their residence in Phang Nga.
The two were released on Wednesday because the gathered materials lacked key components for a bomb and the men had no criminal records linking them to Deep South insurgents, Col. Pramote Prom-in, the military’s spokesman in the Deep South, told BenarNews.
Some of the 13 other suspects who were arrested on Dec. 28 for alleged links to an insurgent plot targeting New Year’s have been released as well, Pramote said without elaborating.
Since 2004, nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence associated with the separatist insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region.