Thailand: A Great Mystery

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August 21, 2015: The bombing of a Hindu shrine and tourist attraction in Bangkok on the 17 th is still a mystery. The attack, using a motorcycle bomb outside the temple, was the worst in Thai history. It left twenty dead, eight of them foreign tourists. Over a hundred people were wounded. This attack does not appear to be the work of any of the usual suspects. The government will only say that those behind the bombing appeared intent on making the government look bad as well as hurting the economy (by scaring tourists away). The government insisted it had lots of clues and expected to soon identify the culprits.

Few details of the investigation have been released so far other than that the culprit was apparently not a known international terror group nor were any local opposition groups (anti-junta or southern Moslem separatist rebels) apparently responsible. No one has claimed responsibility and despite extensive security camera video none of those responsible have yet been found. Some people seen in video are being sought for questioning but several of these suspects have already been found, questioned and cleared. Foreign police and intelligence agencies have been asked for help. Some investigators have revealed that evidence found so far indicates extensive preparation (a month or more) and a dozen or more people involved. Whatever the bombers’ intentions the incident will definitely do some serious economic damage. Meanwhile repairs on the bombed temple will begin on August 24th.

Tourism normally amounts to ten percent of GDP (and employs over seven million Thais) but was down a bit in 2014 because of the May coup and general unrest. Another problem was that after early 2014 Russian tourists arriving in Thailand declined 30 percent while Chinese arrivals nearly doubled. Thus Chinese are now 19 percent of the tourists versus seven percent Russian. This was helped along by special programs (discounts, Chinese language tour guides and resort staff) for Chinese tourists (from Taiwan and Singapore as well as China). Before the bombing up to 28-30 million tourists (21 percent of them Chinese) were expected in 2015. This was up from 24.8 million in 2014 but now it looks like the 2014 number is an optimistic goal for 2015. Based on past experience the tourism activity will probably bounce back in 2016 but for the next year the economy is going to suffer. The foreign victims of the bombing were from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Already 23 nations have warned their citizens about the risks of visiting Thailand.

Normally Thailand is considered one of the safest tourist destinations in the region, despite widespread gun ownership (legal and illegal) and a murder rate (nearly 4 a year per 100,000) about the same as the United States. Thailand has always had a frontier vibe to it, which may be one reason why it is the only nation in East Asia that was never colonized (much less conquered for long before that). Despite all that there has been little large scale violence and this bombing came as a shock.  

The bombing further complicates efforts by the military government that took over in 2014 and is trying to gain some good will by solving the Islamic terrorist problem in the south and getting the economy going. There has been little progress in both areas and the August 17 bombing makes the economic situation worse since tourism was one of the few industries that was headed for a good year.

In neighboring Malaysia police have, in an unrelated investigation, arrested ten people in the last week and accused them of trying to recruit for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and making preparations for terror attacks in Malaysia. The government has made 121 arrests like this in the last year. So far Malaysia has kept ISIL violence out of the country.

August 6, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat) a roadside bomb killed one marine and wounded three others.

August 2, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat) soldiers, acting on a tip, carried out a pre-dawn raid on a rural home and were fired on by the Islamic terrorists who was indeed hiding out there. During the brief gun battle the Islamic terrorist was killed and an 11.4mm (.45 caliber) pistol recovered. The dead man was wanted for carrying out a 2013 bomb attack that killed two policemen. He was believed responsible for other attacks as well.  

July 31, 2015:  In the south (Yala) over 30 Islamic terrorists attacked a village protected by local defense volunteers and after a 30 minute gun battle retreated. The 1 AM attack left 14 wounded and the Islamic terrorists suffered a major defeat. As more and more villages organize self-defense militias and receive weapons and training from the government the local Islamic terrorists have fewer places they can depend on for support and sanctuary. This attack was supposed to be the first of many such victories to discourage the formation of militias. In the last year the government has distributed nearly 3,000 rifles to these militias and core members of the militias are also paid regularly. Most of the militias are for non-Moslem villages (the most vulnerable to Islamic terrorist violence) but a growing number of Moslem villages, especially ones in remote areas, are forming militias.

July 24, 2015: In the south (Pattani) an Islamic terrorist roadside bomb killed a Buddhist monk and one of the soldiers escorting him. Another monk, two soldiers and three civilians were wounded.

 

 

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