Malaysia Probing Cellphone Link to Thai Bombings

Don Pathan
160815-TH-bombsquad-1000.jpg A bomb squad officer checks the area around the clock tower in Hua Hin following a bomb attack there, Aug. 12, 2016.

Malaysian authorities are looking into a request from neighboring Thailand to track down the owner of a Malaysia-registered mobile phone allegedly used to detonate one of 11 bombs that killed four and injured dozens at tourist sites across southern Thailand last week, an official told BenarNews.

The anonymous official at Government House in Bangkok said the bombings that hit at least seven provinces – and which Thai authorities have described as coordinated – would be on the agenda of discussions between Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, during their meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Prayuth is scheduled to attend a three-day International Conference on Blue Ocean Strategy, at Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya that will focus on how nations can innovate to spur economic growth.

“Our side is asking the Malaysians to track down a mobile phone number that our people believe was used to detonate one of the bombs during the attacks last week,” the Thai official told BenarNews.

The phone was recovered from the site of a bombing in Phuket and Malaysian police have already received the device, according to reports in the Malaysian media.

“The blast did not destroy part of the handphone and the serial number of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on the phone was still visible,” the state-run Malaysian news agency Bernama reported.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Kuala Lumpur was willing to provide full cooperation to Thailand to facilitate investigations into the blasts.

Deep South connection?

On Friday, Thai officials said the attacks appeared to be politically driven and connected to the results of an Aug. 7 constitutional referendum. A majority backed a controversial draft charter that would allow the military-controlled government to influence the outcome of future elections.

On Monday, however, officials said it was too soon to rule out the possibility that the attacks were connected to a separatist insurgency in Thailand’s far southern region, which is known as the Deep South.

“I’ve always said since the beginning and I’ve never said anything else, there are similarities between the tourist spot bombings and those carried out by the separatists,” the Associated Press quoted national police chief Chakthip Chaichinda as saying on Monday.

He was referring to bomb attacks that are frequent in the Deep South, a predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking border region where more than 6,500 have died since 2004 in violence associated with the insurgency.

Chakthip’s comments conflicted with those made a day earlier by one of his deputies, Police Gen. Pongsapat Pongcharoen. He told reporters in Bangkok that the attacks in the upper south were not linked to the rebellion in the Deep South.

A network of 10 to 20 people was behind the attacks in the seven provinces last week, which were coordinated by one mastermind, he said.

Chakthip’s words about a possible Deep South connection were echoed by at least one Thai security official who is familiar with the region.

“There are just too many similarities between the attacks in the upper south and the ongoing insurgency in the far south,” the senior military officer with access to initial reports of last week’s bombings and arson attacks told BenarNews.

The source cited the example of a previous bombing in southern Thailand but well north of the confines of the Deep South: a car-bombing at a shopping mall on the resort island of Koh Samui in April 2015, after which authorities traced the vehicle back to the Deep South.

11 bombings, five arson attacks

So far, at least one person has been arrested in connection with last week’s attacks and several members of the anti-junta Red Shirt movement have been taken in for questioning as well, officials said. But it remained unclear on Monday whether police were holding these people for questioning.

A resident of Chiang Mai, Sakharin Karuehas, was arrested Friday night in connection with an arson attack at a Tesco Lotus supermarket in Nakhon Si Thammarat province that afternoon, authorities said. The market was one of five shops and shopping areas targeted in arson attacks in five southern provinces on Friday.

The first bomb went off Thursday afternoon at a market in Trang province, about 900 km (560 miles) south of Bangkok, killing a soldier and injuring six others. Officials initially blamed that attack on a likely gangland dispute.

On Thursday night, two bombs exploded in the resort town of Hua Hin, about 193 km (120 miles) south of Bangkok, killing one and injuring 21.

On Friday, twin bombs went off near a clock tower in Hua Hin, killing one and injuring three, officials said.

In Phuket, two small bombs exploded, injuring one. And in neighboring Phang Nga province, two bombs exploded but no one was injured.

Elsewhere, in Surat Thani province, two bomb blasts killed one and injured three, officials said.


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