Thai intelligence warns of foreign terror attacks

As Thailand gears up for its crowd-pulling Songkran festival next week, a leaked memo has warned that four Uighur and Chechen militants could be planning terrorist attacks on foreigners in the kingdom.

According to local news website Khaosod English, the warning originally came from Thailand's intelligence information agency and was passed on by the governor of Surat Thani province to local police.

It warns that two Uighur men had entered Thailand via Phuket on March 23 and "may stage attacks on Chinese targets and interests in South-east Asia", said Khaosod. The two Chechens, meanwhile, were allegedly planning to attack Russians in Thailand.

The memo also said that attacks could also take place in the tourist hot spots of Phuket and Samui islands and urged police to step up security in crowded locations.

Thai police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said yesterday the warning was real, but called for calm. Police were checking if the suspects - who entered Thailand via regular channels - were still in the country, or had left to a third destination.

"I have been proceeding with this matter in secret for a week now," he was quoted by Khaosod as saying. "Right now, we still don't know the intention of their entry into the country. We believe they aren't here with good intention."

He assured reporters that Thai security agencies were doing their utmost to guard against attacks.

A rush-hour bomb in central Bangkok last August killed 20 people - mostly foreign tourists - and injured more than 100 people. Two ethnic Uighurs from the restive Xinjiang region of China were arrested and are now on trial in a Thai military court for the attack. But the two men, Mieraili Yusufu and Bilal Mohammed, have denied their involvement.

A Reuters article in February revealed that the perpetrators of the attack had originally picked a pier that was used by Chinese tourists and that they had enough chemicals to make 10 similar bombs.

The Muslim ethnic minority Uighurs accuse Chinese authorities of persecuting them. While analysts believe the bombing was retaliation for Thailand's deportation of 109 Uighurs to China last July, Thai authorities have maintained it was not an act of terrorism. They say instead it was carried out by human smuggling networks striking back against tightened policing.

Chechnya is a republic in the Russian federation where insurgents have tried to break free from Moscow's control.

Tourism is one of the few bright spots in ASEAN's second-largest economy, which has been weighed down by the depressed global economy as well as slower-than-expected public investment in infrastructure.

Nearly 30 million foreigners visited the kingdom last year, and the government expects this to rise to 32 million this year.

This article was first published on April 9, 2016.
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