Southern Thailand and Outside Influences
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Southern Thailand and Outside Influences

World Politics Watch reports:

However, a Western military analyst who has worked in Asia for many years, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes the southern Thailand insurgents are being funded by the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic fundamentalist Wahhabi movement. He suggests that some of them travel to the Middle East for tactics training.

The Wahhabis gained influence by setting up religious schools in southern Thailand, and nothing was done about it because the Thais have prided themselves on maintaining religious freedom. But this has been their undoing,” the analyst told World Politics Watch.

“The Thai authorities have also got it into their heads that the southern Muslims are loyal Thai citizens first and Muslims second, but in fact there is a large degree of Muslim community support for the militants. There is a lot of deep-seated resentment of the Thais.”

COMMENT: One such religious school with strong links to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi movement is the Yala Islamic College in Yala. It has about 800 students and teaches hard-core Wahhabi beliefs. The college is headed by Dr. Ismail Lufti, a graduate of Riyadh’s Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, and reportedly receives funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait (source).

This is how Zachary Abuza described Ismail Lufti in October 2003:

There is a lot of concern on the part of regional intelligence officials regarding the Thai Wahhabi leader and anti-western firebrand Ismail Lufti, whom they suspect s a member of JI. Although there is no evidence that he is a leader of JI, he is a very prominent and respected cleric with a similar world view.

Singapore’s Dr Joseph Liow also believes (PDF) that Dr Lufti is not the head of JI in Thailand and rejected Hambali’s overtures of creating a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia and in the group’s means of terrorist violence. One ICG report also is of the same opinion (page 32 of this report).  

However, this doesn’t mean that Lufti is some pure saint as Zachary Abuza states:

One of JI’s leaders and a key planner of the October 2002 Bali bombing, Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas) was given refuge by Thailand’s leading Wahhabi cleric, Ismail Lutfi.

Hambali has also admitted to have spent 3 days with Dr Lufti before his arrest in Thailand in August 2003. When Dr Lufti was questioned by ABC (Australia) about meeting Hambali he started off denying it then proceeded to a “don’t know” defence before seemingly admitting to some contact. While, people shouldn’t be guilty of who they meet and talk to, I don’t think Dr Lufti and Hambali were playing tiddlywinks for 3 days. Also, I don’t think think that Hambali went through the whitepages and randomly chose Lufti before making overtures. Where there is smoke, there is often fire. The question is, what kind of fire?

More information about Lufti’s College and other Saudi funding is available in this Strait Times article.

In an article in today’s Bangkok Post (cache):

Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong, adviser to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, said the premier has revoked the offers made by the previous administration as it was felt that these forced the militants further into the shadows.

“Gen Surayud has cancelled [the rewards] to give them a chance to prove their innocence. There will be no fears the authorities will arrest them to claim rewards,” said Gen Wattanachai, a former Third Army commander.

Among those with a price on their heads, Sapae-ing Basor, former principal of Thammawitthaya school in Yala, is regarded as the most wanted.

He is said to chair the secretive Dewan Pimpinan Party (DPP), which aims to create an independent state of Pattani.

Gen Wattanachai reportedly met five leaders of the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), which has recently been restructured, on Thursday night to discuss the government’s proposed political dialogue to end the unrest.

They also discussed the proposed Islamic bill, under which an Islamic administrative body would be established to supervise Islamic affairs.

Gen Wattanachai said that insurgent violence in the deep South has increased because Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and al-Qaeda have come into play with help from an old power clique in Malaysia.

To help troops understand insurgent violence, the Army Military Intelligence Command has distributed a handbook to unit commanders in the deep South.

Besides background information and details of separatist movements, the 408-page handbook includes a list of more than 1,000 supporters and sympathisers.

According to the handbook, the DPP is a secret organisation formed to support Perjuangan Merdeka Patani, or the movement for an independent state of Pattani.

The DPP is divided into sections including foreign affairs, youth recruitment and training, psychological operations and economic affairs.

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) Coordinate is a key element in the separatist movement, with more than 1,000 supporters and sympathisers across the three southernmost provinces and some parts of Songkhla. Its armed force is the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK).

Citing statements by Islamic teachers and students who graduated in Indonesia, militants are said to have received weapons training in Indonesia and Malaysia, while female members also received medical training in Malaysia’s Kedah state.

According to the book, Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Patani (Selatan Thailand) Di Patani, an association of Thai students in Indonesia, takes care of the finances of the insurgency.

COMMENT: The idea that foreign money is supporting the insurgency is hardly surprising. I don’t think the money comes from a single source as this article quoted in this post states. The Malaysian government gets upset with any statements of a “Malaysian connection” to the violence.

In case you are thinking that Gen. Wattanachai is some small-time advisor who Gen. Surayud doesn’t listen well he isn’t. As a Matichon weekly article (Vol 1388, 23-29 March, on page 27) reports  Gen. Wattanachai is one of PM Surayud’s closest two friends. Surayud wanted him to be the Deputy PM for Security, but was overruled by Gen. Sonthi who wanted control of national security for the CNS. Surayud and Gen. Wattanachai were classmates at the Armed Forces Preparatory School together (Class 1). The other close friend is Defence Minister Gen Boonrawd Somtas, also a fellow Class 1 classmate.