Insurgents from Thailand’s Deep South region did not carry out last week’s bombing on the resort island of Koh Samui, the Thai deputy prime minister told reporters in Bangkok on Friday.
But in southern Thailand, security officials revealed that three people in custody in connection with the car-bomb attack were Deep South natives and a group of suspects had driven from that restive region to the Koh Samui area in three vehicles.
“It was not the work of the insurgents from the Deep South. It was not the expansion of the activities by the insurgency from the Deep South,” Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said at Government House.
“At Koh Samui island, police are speeding up the prosecution process. We know all the culprits,” he added during a news conference, at which he presented a laundry list of the military-led government’s achievements during its first months in office.
Earlier, authorities had said that a truck used in the bombing at a shopping mall on the island had been stolen in Yala province – which is part of the Deep South. The April 10 bombing at the Central Festival mall injured seven people.
Prawit did not mention the bomb-rigged truck but he hinted that the attack on the popular tourist destination was politically motivated.
“We need to speed up the case because there is a complex network with connections from south to north and vice versa, plotting everything,” Prawit said.
Growing Deep South connection
Meanwhile, a bomb disposal expert in southern Thailand told BenarNews the bomb was homemade and was rigged in the manner used by insurgents from the far south.
“The bomb was composed of 50 to 80 kilos of explosives,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The bomb was housed in a cooking gas tank and detonated by remote control with a cellphone, he said.
On Friday, authorities announced that they had found a third vehicle used in the Koh Samui plot.
A group of suspects had driven three vehicles from the Deep South to the pier at Don Sak, in Surat Thani province.
At a ferry terminal there, two of the vehicles stayed, while a third one, which was rigged with the bomb, boarded the ferry for the sea crossing to Koh Samui, regional police told BenarNews.
In Surat Thani, Army Maj. Gen. Kuerkoon Innachak, who is leading a military investigation into the bombing, told reporters that seven security guards who worked at the mall were taken into custody and questioned on Tuesday.
Four of them later were released, but three men are still in custody. All three are from the Deep South, Kuerkoon said, adding that one of them was heavily involved in the plot.
None of the suspects have been charged, he said.
Expert: Rogue southern separatists may have been involved
Prawit’s rejection of the theory that southern separatists may have been behind the bombing followed speculation in the media about whether the rebels were exporting their mission north of the Deep South’s borders.
Since 2004, more than 6,000 people in the predominantly Muslim region, where people speak a Malay dialect, have died in the conflict.
“If the attacks were perpetrated by Malay insurgents, it would represent an important escalation of the conflict in Southern Thailand,” Zachary Abuza, an expert on terrorist movements in Southeast Asia, wrote in an article published in The Diplomat on Monday.
“In just the six years since January 2009 alone, there have been more than 1,000 bombings, but they have remained confined to the Malay-dominated provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, as well as the four districts of Songkhla. Insurgents have rarely ventured out of that area,” he added.
Lt. Gen. Nanthadej Meksawat, a retired security officer who covered the Deep South, said he believed that “rogue elements” from the southern insurgency may have been hired to carry out the attack.
Last Friday’s bombing took place on the fifth anniversary of a Red Shirt protest in which some pro-opposition demonstrators were killed at the hands of government forces.
“Rogue elements with connection with politicians would do it for money,” Nanthadej told BenarNews.
National politicians with connections to the opposition are known to hire insurgents in the Deep South for their political purposes, he said.
However, in his view, it is unlikely that mainstream insurgents would expand their ideological mission outside the region.
“The insurgents with ideology wouldn’t cross the line of their territory because their fellow Muslims in the Deep South may fall under suspicion by the authorities and they may be subjected to search operations,” he added.