BANGKOK — A number of security analysts said the evidence now suggests beyond a reasonable doubt that insurgents fighting for independence in the Deep South were behind the bomb attacks in southern Thailand last week.
While the authorities continue to insist that the ethnic-religious conflict had nothing to do with the bombings which hit on the Queen’s birthday, the scholars point to methods and motives they say leaves the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or BRN, the only viable perpetrators.
“It’s likely the southern insurgents,” Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, a researcher who focuses on the Deep South violence, said at a panel discussion held Wednesday. “But of course they do not call themselves insurgents. They call themselves juwae, which is a Malay word that means fighters.”
Speaking at the same panel organized by the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand, security analyst Anthony Davis said other possible candidates such as the Redshirts or a military faction can be ruled out, because the former couldn’t plan such a large-scale attack under intense surveillance, and the timing of the attack – just after the junta’s charter draft was endorsed by a landslide – ruled out the latter.
“In my opinion, it’s just common sense,” said Davis, who works for IHS Jane’s. “It doesn’t require expertise at all. All I did was simply to connect the dots.”
In a separate interview on Wednesday, Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch, also said he’s convinced the Deep South militants are the ones to blame.
“It’s clear quite clear. The evidence point that way,” Srisompob said.
Rungrawee, Davis and Srisompob went as far as naming the group that’s most likely responsible: the BRN, which means National Revolutionary Front and is often described by the authorities as the most active and well-armed southern separatist cell.
The military driving the investigation seems to disagree. On Thursday it announced the arrest of 15 Redshirt supporters, mostly in their 60s and 70s, and accused them of having ties with the bombers. The army backtracked on its claim a day later.
A Resume of Terror
Despite popular understanding, the BRN has a history of organizing attacks outside their home provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, according to Rungrawee, Davis and Srisompob.
Founded in 1963, the group is committed to reviving the independent state of Patani, which was annexed by Bangkok over a hundred years ago, while maintaining strict secrecy about its structure.
Previous attacks thought to have been carried out by the BRN include a failed car bomb on Phuket in 2013 and a successful one on Koh Samui in 2015. The BRN was also blamed for previous waves of small, coordinated bomb attacks in the southern region.
“They have been practising this for years,” Davis said. “Instead of another car bomb, they go back to what they’re good at.”
Rungrawee said the notion that tourist destinations were never touched by the BRN are false.
“They like to target tourist sites, shopping malls, nightlife areas that they see as sinful places, and landmarks associated with the state,” she said.
Another issue is the escalation of attacks, which surprised many observers because previous coordinated attacks only took place within the Deep South provinces. But Srisompob said it’s simply the matter of the same thing on a different scale.
“If we look at the details, the methods aren’t different, it’s just they were carried out outside the region,” he said. “The bombs are not large. They are roughly same size. It’s just they plant them in more locations. It’s their tactics that change.”
Rungrawee said an earlier example of such coordinated attacks was the seven small bombings in Bangkok on New Year’s Eve 2007.
The bombs used in the attacks last week also bore hallmarks of the BRN, according to the three experts: Small, improvised devices with timers set by mobile phones bought from Malaysia.
An Offer You Can’t Ignore
Davis named two motives that could have spurred the militants to stage the attacks last week. One was the Aug. 7 referendum on the junta’s constitution draft, which the BRN opposed, as marked by a dramatic increase in IED attacks in early August, peaking the weekend of the vote. The insurgents also left graffiti denouncing the vote and the charter, Davis noted.
The constitution, which was endorsed by a large margin but rejected in the Deep South, caused particular anger among the Muslim-majority populace there because it conferred special, protected status to Buddhism.
Another possible motive was the lack of progress in negotiations, which the BRN said must include international mediation.
“But such a demand is anathema to the Thai governments, especially the military government, which wants to keep the issue domestic,” Davis said.
His view is shared by Srisompob, who suspected that the Mother’s Day bombings were staged to prod the military government back to the negotiation table. “I think they want to make news … I think they were upset about the peace talk. It had grounded to a halt.”
Davis also feared that the attacks could have been engineered by the younger generations of BRN fighters who, upset by the long years of warfare that has been raging since 2004, want to launch an endgame that exceeds all previous scales.
“What we saw was a watershed moment,” Davis said. “The BRN has crossed the Rubicon, which is dangerous,”
According to the analyst, the group will likely mount another attack if the state continues to ignore them and blame it all on unrelated but more convenient scapegoats like the Redshirts. “They didn’t cross the Rubicon just to go home,” he said.