Thailand Watchful of Islamic State Movements

By Pimuk Rakkanam
150610-TH-shiite-620 An Iraqi Shiite fighter holds up an Islamic State (IS) patch after pro-government forces took the town of Baiji from IS, June 7, 2015.

National security officials in Thailand are voicing concern about the influence of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Southeast Asia, and they are monitoring jihadists from other parts of the region who pass through the country on their way to the Middle East.

“We keep an eye on their movements because they are sheer, extreme terrorists,” Gen. Aksara Kerdpol, who is leading Thai governmental efforts to hold peace talks with southern Muslim rebels, told BenarNews.

At least five IS supporters and recruits from neighboring Malaysia have transited through Thailand this year via its restive Deep South region while heading to Syria and Iraq, according to another Thai security official who requested anonymity.

“In the past months, we received requests from the countries of origin to verify whether five Malaysians and one Australian had traveled through Thailand,” the official told BenarNews.

“We found that one Australian and five Malaysians traveled through Thailand and finally turned up in Syria,” he added.

In transit

The Malaysians entered Thailand via a border crossing in Sadao, a district in the far southern province of Songkhla. There, they boarded buses to Bangkok and then traveled on to Vietnam, where they caught flights to the Middle East from Ho Chi Minh City, the source said.

“They traveled by land to avoid the attention of Malaysian authorities,” he said, adding it was more conspicuous for the Malaysian IS recruits to fly directly to Turkey – a gateway to Syria for many jihadists – from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The Australian recruit flew directly from Australia to Bangkok before catching a connecting flight to Turkey.

National Security Council (NSC) Director-General Anusit Konakorn said he discussed the regional threat posed by IS with his Malaysian counterpart during a meeting in April in Malaysia.

At least 540 Indonesians and 63 Malaysians have joined IS’s Mideast ranks, Indonesian and Malaysian government officials say.

“Thailand and Malaysia shared the view of concern,” Anusit told reporters on June 2.

“The ease of inbound and outbound travel around Southeast Asian nations opens a convenient door for recruitment of IS prospects from within the region,” he added.

‘Thailand must be aware’

According to a Thai counterterrorism expert and retired military officer who spent years working to deter the threat posed by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, IS represents an even more potent menace.

Unlike al-Qaeda, IS has established a self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria that its forces control, Lt. Gen. Nanthadej Meksawat said.

“IS has managed to establish a strong base and has no need to go into hiding, making it easy for faithful IS ideologists to come join it,” Lt. Gen. Nanthadej told BenarNews, noting that Thailand had no full-fledged counterterrorism apparatus to deal with such a threat.

“Secondly, IS has resources that [allows it] to operate not only in guerrilla warfare but conventional warfare as well,” Nanthadej said.

IS also targets civilians and “Thailand must be aware of that approach,” he added.


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