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Indonesian suspect arrested over Thai bombings

The discovery of an Indonesian militant deeply involved in the most recent wave of bombings across Thailand’s three southern Muslim-majority provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala has been predicted by some analysts for years and, as such, is actually of little surprise. For example, acclaimed researcher Rohan Gunaratna has written extensively about the al-Qaeda -linked web of Islamic militants across southeast Asia coordinated in large part by master logistician Hambali who worked intimately with both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya (JI) until his apprehension in Ayutthaya, Thailand, (75 kilometers north of Bangkok) in August 2003 . Due primarily to co-location with one of JI’s network hubs and a few militants with shared Afghanistan training, Gunaratna links JI with the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) , a New PULO faction reinvigorated in the 1990s, Barisan Revolusi National Malayu Pattani (BRN) , Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Pattani (GMIP) , and Bersatu (Unity). Despite the obvious affinity and likely technical assistance the southern Thailand insurgency likely receives, the movement is not clearly dominated by radicalized Indonesian brethren nor does it appear to be pursuing JI’s goal to build a Southeast Asian Caliphate. Thus far, the two-plus year wave of Muslim violence has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,300 people, limited almost entirely to the southern three provinces. Unlike the popular JI tactic to target government and western facilities in major urban centers indiscriminately injuring civilians as a means to alienate the general populace from the government, the southern Thai insurgency focuses violence against government workers such as government-paid teachers and civil servants as well as security forces and related buildings. The militants don?t identify a specific leader. A closer affiliation to JI might have seen the Thai insurgents highlighting the release of the group’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, who was released last week from Indonesian jail for involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings as well as immigration charges. Closer links to JI or al-Qaeda would likely prompt the group to bomb hotels or foreign embassies in Bangkok or Thailand’s tourist resorts as has happened in Jakarta in 2004 and Bali again in 2005 , Indonesia, yet the tourist industry in Thailand remains strong. Additionally, southern militants don’t seem to articulate an elaborate propaganda campaign or otherwise espouse a particularly jihadist agenda such installing Muslim leadership or enacting Islamic Sharia law. Ironically, any Muslim discontent with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is widely shared?albeit for different reasons?with much of the Buddhist-majority as evident by the civil unrest in March which prompted Thaksin to call a special early election on April 2, 2006. The April polls were fraught with problems including a widespread boycott and were ultimately aned by Thailand’s Constitutional Court on May 8. All told, the insurgency can best be described as populist uprising with historical ties to the original PULO, but may now include a loose confederation of elements from the other groups mentioned above. Over the past 32 months the movement has been less articulate and media-savvy then in decades past, but that may now be changing. Some observers noted that last week’s rash of over 60 bombings could well have been timed to gain the attention of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting June 19-21, 2006 in Azerbaijan . These analysts suggest that the bombers sought to elevate the plight of Thai Muslims as a topic on par with the Israeli -Palestinian conflict, Iraq , Afghanistan , Somalia , Sudan and Cyprus issues that already crowd the agenda. In the meantime, most young militants will continue to use the Malaysian frontier as a sanctuary for further attacks

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