Thailand terror and the Year of the Pig

Thailand was shaken by a string of simultaneous terror blasts on the Christian New Year, and now again on the Chinese New Year. The Jan. 1 blasts in Bangkok are still murky, but the Feb. 17 blasts in the heavily Muslim south are claimed to be the work of Islamic militants. Few are making the connection, but could the date have been chosen because it marked the opening of the Year of the Pig—an animal thought to be propitious in Chinese astrology, but haram for Muslims? Interestingly, authorities in China have actually banned images of the pig from state television during the festivities, in the name of cultural sensitivity—a move that Alt.Muslim dismisses as “Throwing a (Pig) Bone to China’s Muslims,” a patronizing gesture aimed at underming the Muslim Uighur insurgency in China’s far west. In Thailand, some arrests have been made, but little real information seems available. How devout could these supposed Muslim militants be if they “boosted their courage with narcotics and cough syrup”—which is just as haram as swine for the orthodox? From AP, Feb. 20:

BANGKOK – Three men who said they boosted their courage with narcotics and cough syrup were arrested and confessed to involvement in deadly bombings and other attacks in southern Thailand blamed on Muslim insurgents, an army officer said Tuesday.

The three were arrested Sunday shortly after the attacks that killed eight people and wounded nearly 70 in a 24-hour period beginning Sunday night, said Lt. Gen. Viroj Buajaroon, the regional commander for the south.

Sunday’s attacks took place simultaneously in all four southern provinces – Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla – where the militants operate. About 2,000 people have been killed in the area in the separatist insurgency that flared up in January 2004.

Despite the arrests and increased security, suspected insurgents carried out more attacks Tuesday, including at least two bombings. No casualties were reported.

Viroj said it is still unclear which group carried out Sunday’s attacks – which included 29 bombings within 45 minutes – but the three arrested suspects had linked the violence to an Islamic militant group and given information about others involved.

He said some of them have been trained by a group known as Runda Kumpulan Kecil, or RKK, but declined to provide more details. The shadowy organization is believed by some terrorism experts to refer more to an informal network of separatists who allegedly received indoctrination and training in Indonesia.

The insurgents have not announced their goals, but are believed to be fighting for a separate state under Islamic administration.

Viroj said the suspects carried amulets and charms on their bodies, adding that they said they took narcotics and cough syrup to bolster their courage before carrying out the attacks.

That showed a similarity to those who carried out several coordinated dawn assaults on police bases in the south in April 2004 in what amounted to suicide attacks in which more than 100 insurgents were killed.

The military-backed government pledged tighter security Monday.

The attacks occurred as thousands were celebrating Lunar New Year, and an army spokesman said the insurgents were trying to frighten ethnic Chinese who celebrate the holiday into fleeing the predominantly Muslim region.

Three people of Chinese descent were shot and killed that same night. Ethnic Chinese in southern Thailand are mostly Buddhists and Taoists.

The bombs weighed 6½-11 pounds each, and the targets included karaoke lounges, hotels, schools, gasoline stations and power grids.

Violence in the south has been escalating in recent months despite a major policy shift by the military-imposed government, which is trying to replace an iron-fisted approach with a campaign to win over local residents. Muslims form the majority in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces but have long complained about being treated like second-class citizens in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.