Suspected rebels shot dead two border patrol policemen at a mosque in Thailand’s troubled Deep South on Friday, authorities said of the first deadly attack to strike the region in five weeks.
Four gunmen entered the Ban Mayo Mosque in Than To, a district of Yala province, at around 1 p.m. and opened fire on the officers as they were attending a Friday sermon, officials said. The suspects fled after shooting the pair, identified as Police Lt. Capt. Adul Rakpras and Police Maj. Capt. Waeromlee Waehama, who died at the scene.
“[T]he two policemen from the 44th Border Patrol Bureau were listening to religious teachings, as four gunmen sneaked into the premises from the back door, shooting and killing them on the spot,” Lt. Capt. Polakorn Srichai, an investigator at the Than To police station, told reporters, adding it was highly likely that the killers were separatist insurgents.
A local resident said he suspected that members of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest and most heavily armed of insurgent groups in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South, were responsible for Friday’s killings.
“I believe the culprits are BRN militants who were forced to cross into Thailand back from Malaysia,” the resident of Mayo village told BenarNews on condition of anonymity, citing concerns for his own safety.
“Local residents here cannot accept such brutality because letting blood in the mosque of Allah is gravely wrong. We all condemn such attacks.”
A Muslim cleric in Pattani, another province in the Deep South, also deplored the killings.
“It is an act of evil and it is gravely wrong, in this life and the next,” Imam Sakariya Galeng told BenarNews, adding it was considered a sin in Islam to kill people inside a mosque.
The attack was the second deadly one targeting a place of worship or holy site in Thailand’s restive southern border region this year. On Jan. 18, two Buddhist monks were shot dead by suspected insurgents at their monastery in Su-ngai Padee district, Narathiwat province, police said.
Friday’s killings were the first to claim the lives of policemen in the region since Feb. 27. On that day, eight masked gunmen abducted two officers from a teashop in Narathiwat’s Cho I-rong district and then shot them dead some 200 yards away, according to authorities.
Nearly 7,000 people have died in violence in the Deep South since the BRN reignited its decades-old separatist rebellion in January 2004. Efforts by Thailand’s military government to engage various southern rebels in Malaysia-brokered peace talks since 2015 so far have yielded no breakthroughs.