Thai security agencies believe Muslim insurgents staged two arson attacks in Narathiwat downtown late on Friday night to “create a situation” before a visit by representatives of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The simultaneous fires damaged a low-price goods shop and a department store in Muang district about midnight.
While Narathiwat police chief Pol Maj-General Manas Siksamat said the media should not jump to conclusion the fires were staged by Muslim insurgents, a military source was certain of a link between the OIC visit and the arsons.
The source said the insurgents definitely hoped to escalate the situation in the southern insurgency before 10 OIC representatives visit the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Naratihwat late this month.
The source said security agencies believe the attackers came from Bacho and Yingor districts in Narathiwat and they are under the command of Abdulloh Ulae, who is wanted under several arrest warrants.
Manas, Captain Lersak Kachanan, commander of the Marine Taskforce of Chulabhorn Fort, and Muang Narathiwat police station chief Pol Colonel Charoen Thammakhan inspect the scenes of the two fires at 7.30am on Saturday.
At the first spot, a makeshift shop, whose roof and walls were made of galvanized iron sheets, was burned down. The shop of Niramon Sangsuwan, 42, was selling kitchen utensils, mosquito nets, mattresses and pillows. It is situated at the front of Soi Santichok on Rangae Mankha road in Tambon Bang Nak.
The fire engulfed the entire shop and spread to an aquarium shop next to it, which is owned by Chuchart Silamas, 44.
The authorities estimated that the first shop suffered damage worth Bt1 million and the aquarium suffered damaged worth Bt500,000.
At the second spot, the Super 4 Narathiwat department store on Chamroon Nara road in Tambon Bang Nak was completely engulfed by fire. Authorities estimated that the damage was worth about Bt10 million. The store was previously attacked by insurgents on September 1, 2012.
Investigators at the scene found pieces of a watch they believe was used as a timing device to set off an explosive to start the fire.
Manas said although the two fires started simultaneously, the authorities needed to further investigate whether they were staged by insurgents.