Has IS established a foothold in the Deep South?
An unconfirmed report about the recent brief visit to the Deep South by three men from Malaysia suspected of having links with the Islamic State (IS) has prompted security and intelligence officials to launch an investigation.
The three suspected foreigners were said to have donated some money to masjids and religious schools in Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat with a request for religious leaders to arrange for a course in Islamic State to be taught to their students.
Military officers from the fourth army region investigating the case went to one of the schools reported to have received donation from the trio were told by an administrator of the school who confirmed the brief visit of the three foreigners.
But the administrator claimed that the trio were former students of Babor, an Islamic scholar, who was granted the permission to open his religious school. But he denied there was any request for the school to teach its students about IS nor was there any discussion on the terror group.
The unnamed administrator said the school asked for public donations twice – in 2012 and last year – and has received over 10 million in donations which were used to build the school and for educational purpose. He affirmed that the school focuses its teachings on Asean languages and international Islamic study and does not support religious extremism.
When asked about the report of suspected IS members’ presence in the Deep South, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said authorities concerned were investigating the case. He also stated that there is no need for the public to know everything that the authorities have been doing because the government does not want the public to become unnecessarily panic.
Dr Panitharn Wattanayakorn, a security advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, however, said that the government used to be alerted by its Asean neighbours about the planned arrivals in Thailand of suspected IS elements and precautionary measures were adopted for their interception.
LKt-Col Noppadol Pakaphol, commander of Narathiwat Task Force 36, confirmed that security forces have not detected any IS-linked activities in the Far South but security has been tightened.
Mrs Wichuda Arwae, vice president of Muno Tambon Administration Organistion, admitted that it was normal for foreigners or foreign charity organisastions to make donations to schools or masjids in the region. She said she had no idea whether any of them have links with IS.