At least two Buddhists monks were shot dead and two others injured in a rare attack by suspected insurgents on a monastery in Thailand’s troubled Deep South on Friday night, authorities said, ending a particularly violent day in the region.
Elsewhere in the southern border area, seven members of the Thai security forces were injured in a pair of bombings and a suspected Muslim rebel was killed in a shootout with authorities, officials said.
The attack that targeted the monks took place in Su-ngai Padee, a district of Narathiwat province, and was carried out by gunmen to avenge the killing of the insurgent earlier on Friday, a police official told reporters.
“Attackers fired shots into Ratananupab Temple in Kokko Village,” said Police Lt. Tanakarn Wiparat, an investigator at the district’s police station.
“I believe the attackers were exacting revenge for the death of their fellow insurgent this morning.”
Thailand is a majority Buddhist country but the Deep South, where a separatist insurgency has gone on for decades, is predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking.
Bloodshed has marked the start of the new year, with violence occurring regularly in spite of efforts by the military government to inject new life into Malaysia-brokered peace talks with southern rebel groups.
Tanakarn said the four monks were shot together and that all of them had died of their injuries, including three at the scene and one at an area hospital. No other people were reported injured in that attack.
However, an official who heads a village cluster where the attack occurred and a medical worker at the hospital told BenarNews that two of the monks had succumbed to their gunshot wounds, but the other two were being treated there for their injuries. Tanakarn could not be reached again late on Friday to cross-check this information.
“Two monks died on the spot. Two others survived. One of them was shot in his shoulder and a foot, another shot in the thigh. They are in safe condition,” a nurse at the hospital in Su-ngai Kolok, another district in Narathiwat, said by phone early Saturday morning (local time).
The shooting at the monastery took place hours after security officials in Narathiwat’s Chanae district shot and killed Ali Mali, a man wanted for insurgent attacks in another part of Narathiwat, during a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout, officials said.
Within an hour of his killing on Friday morning, two bombs went off in other districts of the Deep South, officials said.
The clash was followed by two bomb attacks within a span of one hour, said officials. In To Deng, a village in Su-ngai Padee, insurgents set off a roadside bomb near railway tracks that lightly injured five soldiers, authorities said.
And, in another blast in Nong Chik, a district of neighboring Pattani province, two policemen were gravely wounded. The pair was taken to a local hospital, where each officer had a leg or part of their limb amputated, officials said.
In the aftermath of the Friday morning bombings and the killing of Ali Mali, Lt. Gen. Pornsak Poolsawat, the Thai army’s regional commander in the heavily militarized Deep South, warned security forces to take stay alert and safeguard soft targets from possible retaliatory strikes by insurgents.
“All units must be on full alert for 24 hours. I believe the opponents will retaliate because they lost a member,” Pornsak said. “All must get their arms ready to protect soft targets such as teachers and monks.”
Friday’s violence brought to at least nine the number of people killed in attacks and shootings in the Deep South since Jan. 1. At least another 15 people have been injured so far in 2019 from violence in the region, according to figures extrapolated by BenarNews from police and military reports.
The Deep South borders Malaysia and encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces as well as four districts in Songkhla province. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in the region since the insurgency flared up again in early 2004 after a long lull in violence.
Matahari Ismail in Narathiwat, Thailand, contributed to this report.