BANGKOK — Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said on Monday denied any connection between the Islamic State and Thailand, despite the recent arrest of a Thai student in Egypt on suspicion of belonging to the terror group.
A few days after the Thai Embassy in Cairo confirmed the arrest, Prawit said there is no evidence of any IS-aligned movement in the kingdom, especially the Deep South region where separatists have been battling for an independent Islamic state.
“Our enquiries have found no link between the people in the three southernmost provinces and the Islamic State,” Prawit said. “Though it’s possible they might know each other personally as some of them have studied overseas.”
He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are taking steps to assist the apprehended student.
According to the Thai Embassy’s statement, the student was arrested in Egypt on Sept. 24 after local authorities found photos that linked to IS in his mobile phone. The suspicion was further aggravated as he appeared in an online video showing him pledging support to the IS cause.
A woman in Yala identified the student as her son Aiproheng Malee, who has been studying in Cairo for two years. She denied her son’s involvement with the terror group and asked the authorities to secure his freedom.
“His friend called me and told me that Aiproheng has been arrested and forced to confess,” Ya Malee told Khaosod. “I don’t believe it, but security officials has started to question me of his whereabouts.”
Thai officials have not confirmed the student’s identity. He is reportedly in custody for an investigation. It is not clear whether he has been charged.
The Embassy said its ambassador Chainarong Keratiyutwong had met with Egyptian deputy foriegn minister Hazem El Tahry to request permission for consular assistance to the student. The deputy minister promised to forward the request to relevant authorities, the statement said.
There are approximately 3,500 Thai students attending Islamic and Middle East studies in Egypt, according to the Embassy’s data. Most of them are from the three southernmost provinces.
Thailand’s southern insurgency broke out in 2004 with the aim to secede the three provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat and revive the independent sultanate of Patani.
Although there had been reports in recent years of IS’ attempts to establish their presence in the region, experts say there is no concrete evidence that the separatists are part of the wider jihadist movement.
Speaking today, Prawit also defended a new security measure requiring residents in the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat to register their prepaid SIM cards with fingerprints.
Civil rights activists slammed the move as an intrusion of privacy, but the government said it’s a necessary precaution.
“We are not infringing their rights because they can use their mobile phones whenever they like,” Prawit said.