IN THE first incident of its kind, armed insurgents in Thailand’s deep South on Wednesday stole several vehicles at the same time with the apparent intention of turning them into car bombs.
“We believe they must have planned it well in advance. They must have already studied possible places where they could get several vehicles in a single operation,” a security official said yesterday on condition of anonymity.
At least six armed men raided a used car shop in Songkhla’s Na Thawi district at about 11.30am on Wednesday.
They stole six vehicles and also kidnapped the shop owner and three employees. Earlier in the day, they had stolen another pickup from a couple in Pattani’s Yarang district.
Two of the hostages were later shot with one victim dying in hospital.
“This shop may have been targeted because it does not implement strict security measures or, it is quite probable, because the shop is owned by a Buddhist,” the official said.
The scale of Wednesday’s robbery and violence has caused serious alarm in the southernmost region, where unrest has spiked over the past 13 years.
Security officials quickly went public with details about the stolen vehicles as they hunted for the armed suspects.
Within a few hours, authorities found a stolen pickup abandoned on a road, apparently because it had run out of petrol.
They also located another stolen pickup in Songkhla’s Thepha district, and killed the driver in a gunfight. About 80 kilograms of explosives was found in the vehicle.
At about 2.30pm on Wednesday, a bomb in another stolen pickup exploded in Pattani’s Nong Chik district injuring four soldiers.
“It should be noted that all the stolen vehicles apparently were moved to the same location,” the security official said.
“From Songkhla’s Na Thawi district, they headed towards the province’s Thepha district.
“Thepha and Nong Chik have a shared border.”
Intelligence reports showed the border area between the two districts had been used by insurgents as bases to assemble bombs, he said. In February last year, security officials raided a few premises in the area and seized more than 30 bombs.
“We suspect that the armed thieves must have already prepared explosives for the vehicles they stole. But they could not implement their plot in full because of uncontrollable factors,” the official said.
Of the seven stolen pickups, just two were equipped with explosives and detonated.
In addition to the blast that injured four soldiers, a car bomb was detonated in front of a policeman’s home that caused no injuries.
“Because security officials have been very effective in going after stolen vehicles in the deep South in recent years, insurgents have used the tactic of stealing vehicles and turning them into car bombs on the same day quite often,” the official said.
Over the past 13 years, 52 car-bomb attacks have taken place in the South – 23 in Narathiwat, 12 in Yala, 13 in Pattani, three in Songkhla and one in Surat Thani’s Samui area.