Thailand: April 2, 2004

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Thai police believe there are indicators of 'a major attack' brewing in Thailand's Muslim-dominated south, possibly coinciding with the Songkran water festival in April (which is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors). A successful attack could severely deflate Thailand's tourism industry, which accounts for 6 percent of the country's GDP. 

The latest incident occurred on the night March 30 in Yala province, when ten armed raiders thought to be Islamic insurgents broke into the Manoon Rock Grinding factory. They tied up two old security guards and hauled off nearly 1.4 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, as well as 58 sticks of dynamite and 170 blasting caps. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer was the primary ingredient of the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people (as well as the 1995 Oklahoma City and 1993 World Trade Center bombings). Regional quarrying firms are licensed to keep explosives and related chemicals for blasting.

While resurgent Islamic separatist groups reviving a decades-old independence struggle for the three southernmost provinces have been blamed, these terrorists also allegedly operate under some degree of protection from influential political figures and corrupt security officials. These unscrupulous insiders are profiting from smuggling of drugs, weapons and people smuggling along the border. 

The worst case situation would be if the local antagonists were linked to the Al-Qaeda-allied Jemaah Islamiah group. Meanwhile, the Thai prime minister cancelled trips to Europe to concentrate on restoring "normalcy and stability as soon as possible", while the defense minister claimed that the government has begun "secret talks" with those involved in an effort to restore calm. - Adam Geibel


 

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