A NARATHIWAT native wanted in Malaysia in connection with allegations of involvement with the Islamic State (IS) has been arrested and is undergoing interrogation, but it is unlikely that he is linked to the terrorist group, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday.
Malaysia is hunting for four suspected IS members believed to be on the run in the deep South, including a Thai national from Narathiwat’s Joh I Rong district.
Two of them have never entered Thailand, one was in the country last year and the Thai was arrested and is now being interrogated, Prawit told reporters. The Thai suspect is identified as Awae Wae-Eya, 37 and lives in Narathiwat province, a hot spot in the restive South.
Primary investigations suggested that he is not a member of the IS, Prawit said. Thai authorities have already coordinated with their Malaysian counterparts to exchange information, he said.
Media reports earlier said that six members of the IS cell had been arrested between February 27 and March 1. Information from the arrested men indicated that the hunted four suspected were “dangerous” and “capable of launching attacks that could pose a threat to national security”, according to Malaysian police.
Intelligence circles in Malaysia said they believed Awae was the group’s mastermind, based on interrogation of the six men arrested, and that he was trying to establish an IS cell in southern Thailand.
However Thai security agencies said Awae was just a self-promoting figure who loved to claim linkage with IS to get attention in social media.
Prawit had earlier raised the possibility of the IS trying to establish cells in Thailand, but yesterday said the government was not worried about that. A spate of violence in the predominantly Muslim region since early 2004 has killed more than 7,000 people. Thai authorities are struggling to contain the violence caused by ethno-religious differences.
While Southeast Asia nations, most notably Malaysia, are worried about the potential for an increasing IS presence in the region, security officials and experts in Thailand view the situation in the South as a purely domestic affair. They concede that IS actions could inspire some militants in the deep south but there was no solid evidence to prove a link.