Nearly all of Thailands 3.5 million Moslems live in the south, along the Malaysian border. Relations between the majority Buddhists and the Moslems has never been good, since Thailand took control of the largely Moslem area in 1909. Islamic radicalism, in the form of a loose knit al Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, has attracted many recruits in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. While all three countries have cracked down on the Islamic radicals, Malaysia and Indonesia, with majority Moslem populations, have had to pull some of their punches. The Islamic radical agenda (anti-corruption, law and order, clean living Etc.) has wide appeal. The dark side includes using violence against those who do not fall in line with what the Islamic radicals are demanding. Some of these radicals have shown up in southern Thailand.
But the situation in southern Thailand was created by other trends as well. Smuggling, especially of drugs, has become a big business. Criminal gangs and corrupt officials (including police) run all this, and derive most of the benefit. This further angers many of the Moslem Thais, especially because so many of the cops and government officials in the south are not Moslem (usually they are Buddhist.) Thailand also has 450 soldiers in Iraq, which offends many Thai Moslems (who admired Saddam Hussein as a powerful Moslem.) Islamic radicals, especially from Malaysia (which is seen by Thai Moslems as the big brother), or trained by Malaysian members of Jemaah Islamiyah) preach revolution, resistance and change.
The government insists that no foreigners were involved in these mass attacks, and that most of the unrest us caused by the drug trade, smuggling and criminal activity. The government has less success explaining away the Islamic connection. All the attackers gathered and prayed before they launched their simultaneous attacks, and were known to spend a lot of time in Mosques. This is not the sort of thing that criminals do. Moreover, the attacks on police stations were apparently to capture weapons. The criminal gangs in the south have plenty of money to buy weapons. All the Islamic radicals have is people, and despite recent reverses, they are likely to attract more recruits. Worse, no organization has publicly taken credit for the Islamic radical violence of the last four months. But anyone who listens to the gossip in the south knows where it is coming for.
The anonymous silence of Islamic radicals in southern Thailand expanded considerably on April 29th when, simultaneously, several hundred teenage boys and young men attacked fifteen police stations in three southern provinces. No one took credit for these attacks. The attackers were mainly armed with machetes and knives. However, the police had been warned of the attack, which is not surprising given the number of people involved. The attacks all failed, with 107 of the attackers killed, along with three policeman and two soldiers. Police arrested 17 of the attackers. The 60 year old leader of the attackers, and 31 of his followers, fled to a mosque, which was surrounded by police and soldiers. The rebels would not surrender, and the battle that followed left all of the rebels dead.