MORE ARRESTS are anticipated over the torching of a Bangkok-bound bus in southern Yala province on December 17 thanks to confessions by suspects already in custody.
Provincial Police Region 9 chief Pol Lt-General Ronnasil Phusara yesterday reported significant progress in the investigation by Army, police and administrative officials of the insurgent attack on the double-decker bus in Bannang Sata district.
Armed militants commandeered the bus, ordered all 16 passengers and the driver off, and set it on fire. No one was physically harmed. Ronnasil said suspects had helped convince authorities there could be another attack between January 6 and 10, which had prompted heightened security measures in seven economically strategic towns in the South.
A source at a national security agency said five suspects were detained within days of the attack and interrogated. Their information led to 20 more suspects being rounded up in Bannang Sata on January 4 under the Emergency Decree, which allows for the detention without charge of citizens in the southern border provinces for up to 37 days. The source said three suspects confessed to launching the attack on the orders of Abdulloh Tapohtoh and Ahama Leubaesa.
Meanwhile, two M16 rifles, 19 rounds of ammunition and equipment that could be used in making bombs, such as a modified cooking-gas cylinder, were discovered at a Narathiwat rubber plantation on Sunday afternoon, it was announced during a press conference yesterday at the 49th Rangers Regiment command in Sri Sakhon district. Security officials believe the same site in Tambon Sakor of Sri Sakhon was where insurgents met to plan an armed attack on December 26 in which one ranger was killed and three other rangers and two civilians injured.
Some 60 paramilitary rangers, police and forensics officers on Sunday searched the property based on testimony by Mahama (last name withheld), who is in custody in relation to that fatal attack. Ban Nam Won (Moo 2) village headman Abdullayi Jehkhor and his assistant, Waesa-ari Wae-asae, observed the search operation.
Officers discovered the disassembled M16 rifles and ammunition in a sack buried under a tree. The weapons reportedly had been buried there since December 22. Then some 200 metres away, they found a 15-kilogram cooking-gas cylinder – already drilled with a hole in the bottom in readiness to make an explosive device – and other bomb-making components hidden in brush. The rifles are being tested to determine whether they were used in the December 26 attack, officials said.
The authorities also used the opportunity to encourage people who hold different views to those of the state and those who have been misled into creating unrest to join the “Bringing People Back Home” project. This allows them to surrender, undergo a legal process to clear their cases and then return home to lead a normal life.