Security officials monitoring people amid fear of attack; experts say IS threat 'realistic'
THE authorities are closely monitoring the activities of different groups of suspects with the potential to carry out armed attacks during important festive season events.
National Security Council chief General Thawip Netniyom said yesterday that given recent warnings and reports of an attack plot, the authorities had implemented stricter security measures.
“We have to closely follow the moves of different groups of people who may be collecting weapons and people, as well as those who may be gathering for some action,” Thawip said.
“We are watching the suspects but we can’t do anything much now without strong evidence,” he said.
He urged the public by reporting suspicious activity because “the authorities may not be able to have full control”. However, he added the public had no cause to panic.
Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra said the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) was working closely with security agencies for strict implementation of security over the festive season.
The focus was major sites in the capital as well as places where foreign tourists frequent and embassies, the homes of ambassadors and international schools, the governor said.
“The BMA will be fully prepared with security measures for Bangkok. We will work round the clock with no holidays,” Sukhumbhand said. He spoke after chairing a meeting on security at City Hall.
Government and public officials yesterday attempted to allay concerns following a report that Russia’s Federal Security Service told Thai police that a group of 10 Syrians entered the country in late October, possibly to target Russian interests.
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai questioned the warning, saying that it would only cause fear and did not bode well for the country’s tourism sector and economy.
Deputy police spokesman Maj-General Songpol Wattanachai urged the public not to be overly concerned.
Security experts, meanwhile, said there was a possibility Islamic State fighters have entered the country.
Thammasat University Middle East specialist Jaran Maluleem said that Russia was a creditable intelligence source so the information could be true.
Rangsit University security lecturer Wanwichit Boonprong agreed, based on Russia’s close surveillance of IS fighters. However, Wanwichit said it would be hard to determine the exact number of IS fighters in the country.
Security specialist Panitan Watthanayagorn said that Russia had notified Thailand of the possible threat but no IS fighters had been located. It was possible they were undercover, he noted.
Jaran said that there would be a 50-50 chance that IS would consider Thailand a safe haven – or a target.
The Muslim specialist said Thailand was a place where criminals hide because it is easier to enter compared with other Asean states, plus it has underground services such as counterfeit passports.
Jaran said that the number of Russians travelling to Thailand and the number of Russian attacks against IS had risen recently. A revenge attack against Russia could occur in Thailand, regardless of the Kingdom never having a direct confrontation with the extremist group, the expert said.
“Unlike its predecessor al-Qaeda, IS does not mainly target the West. Anyone getting in their way could be targets of attacks,” Jaran warned.
Wanwichit believed that IS fighters would remain static if they were in the Kingdom. IS had been under a lot of pressure from international troops recently and it would not want to ruin Thailand has a safe hub, he said.
Panitan said that it was hard to determine what the fighters would do, if indeed they were in the country. But he said that it should be remembered that Thailand had occasionally been a terrorism target as evidenced by the recent Ratchaprasong bombing.
“Considering the frequency of terrorism in Thailand, we could say that the Kingdom has not become a permanent target of terrorists,” he said. “Still, we must be careful with possible situations.”
He suggested that immigration database systems, especially those at borders, could be improved and integrated more with neighbouring countries’ systems to obtain well-rounded information on people entering the country. The public should act as lookouts for the authorities in the search for suspicious people, he said.
Jaran said that Thailand must increase its intelligence to counter this possible threat.
He said security personnel should go undercover to avoid alarming the public during this festive time of the year. And the Kingdom should express a neutral stance on the matter to avoid being targeted.
Wanwichit said to deal with the threat, the government should raise the issue more frankly with the public to create a true understanding without leading to a panic that could harm the nation, such as negatively affecting the economy and tourism.