Terrorism: October 9, 2003


Thailand is tightening security around its Don Muang International Airport. There are reports that police were looking for six missing poertable surface to air missiles ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit scheduled for October 17-21. Thailand has a lot to worry about, since 21 world leaders (including President George W. Bush) are due at the summit. 

The Bangkok Post had reported that the six missiles were "believed to be similar" (ie; probably Chinese copies) to two SA-7s fired at a chartered Israeli commercial jet taking off from Kenya's Mombasa airport in 2002. 

At the beginning of October, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh admitted that Thai intelligence officials had been "hunting them" for some time. The missiles were reportedly smuggled into Thailand from Cambodia (where black market weapons trafficking is rife) about the same time in August that regional Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leader Hambali was arrested in Ayutthaya (north of Bangkok). However, specific details were unavailable and Cambodian promptly denied being the source of these weapons.

While the Thais were proactively following up on raw intelligence, Hambali (who had lived for six months in Cambodia prior to his arrest) apparently told police he did not know where to buy such a missile. However, spewing disinformation while in police custody is a standard terrorist tactic. The New York Times reported on September 20 that Hambali told the CIA that Al Qaeda planned to attack passenger planes and two US-managed hotels in Bangkok during APEC. 

In early to mid-September, there was an unusual movement of about 20 Middle Eastern people with fake Bangladesh passports who sneaked in from Laos into Nong Khai. Five of them were arrested. In early September, Thai military intelligence sources said that JI members had reportedly contacted some Cambodians to supply them with a large arsenal of weapons. These munitions included M79 grenade launchers, RPGs and SAM-7s and were believed to have been hidden in Cambodia since fighting ceased between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government. The caches were concealed along the border with the Thai province of Surin and in Cambodia's Kaoh Kong Province.

Karen rebels, fishermen seeking protection from pirates and even the Sri Lankan LTTE rebels have purchased weapons in Cambodia. In the mid-1990's, the typical prices on the Thai-Cambodian border for an M79 was $119, an RPG grenade-launcher was $160 (and a rocket all of $7). Even a Chinese-made SA7 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles could be bought for only about $8,000. 

A Singapore report quoting aviation security experts classified Don Muang international airport as one of the most vulnerable in Asia to missile attacks, given the airport's proximity to an elevated highway, not to mention nearby residences and commercial complexes. Hambali's key accomplice in Thailand, Mohamad Nazir bin Lep had identified the expressway as a place to launch a missile. 

The Thais intend to deploy fighter jets to escort visiting world leaders, along with tens of thousands of police and troops. Between 4,000 and 5,000 motorcycle taxi drivers working around Bangkok International Airport are being trained by the police and the Air Force to watch for potential militant suspects or violent attacks. All vehicles would be searched for weapons, especially missiles, at entry tollgates.

Oddly enough, the Thai government claimed not to have received requests from APEC leaders' personal security teams to carry firearms in their country (although the Australians supposedly did seek permission to protect Prime Minister John Howard and his delegation). In September, Thai authorities conducted a special second-phase "Cobra Gold" drill with US personnel in Lop Buri, to boost security for the APEC meeting. Over 240 Thai military and police officers worked with US special warfare personnel and bodyguards for the US president.

On September 24, Thailand's government dismissed an Israeli television report claiming that Thai police in Bangkok had thwarted an Al Qaeda plot to launch an attack on an Israeli El Al airliner. The Israeli TV report said the arrest was made three months ago, and that Bangkok airport was considered by Israeli authorities to be a "sensitive" area for possible Al Qaeda attacks. Supposedly, the police arrested a man at Bangkok's international airport filming around the El Al airline counter and in a subsequent raid on his home found a plan to attack passengers as they headed to their plane. - Adam Geibel


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