Saturday :: May 8, 2004

With Friends Like These, ...

by pessimist

Wahhabism, the basis of the religions beliefs and political practices of the al-Saud family, is considered one of the most ridgid and absolute forms of Islam in the world. I also appears to be the inspiration for much of the religious strife in some sections of the world.

Saudi Arabia is the home of Wahhabism, Osama is a Wahhabi, and now it looks like Al Qaeda has a neighbor:

Thailand's Muslim insurgency has 'Wahhabi' ties

An insurgency by Islamist separatists in southern Thailand who have links to the Indonesian Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya (JI) and Al-Qaeda has opened a new bloody front in Southeast Asia's war on terror, and has the makings of a full-blown uprising.

Southern Thailand is home to the Yala Islamic College, which is run by a hard-line Wahhabi cleric, Ismail Lutfi. He has an estimated 8,000 followers installed throughout the south in key Islamic posts, and the college, which like most Islamic institutions in southern Thailand is funded by Saudi money, has about 800 students who are reportedly taught hard-core Wahhabi doctrine.

Other Thai Muslims, however, are displeased with these developments. Vairoj Phiphitpakdee, a Muslim member of Parliament for Pattani, has said some Thai Muslims mistakenly believe that Islam is just about adopting Arab customs.

"They're taken to the Middle East and they're brainwashed," he said.

The unprecedented violence, which escalated last week with the gunning down of more than 100 Islamists as they prepared to attack army posts, has become Bangkok's biggest domestic security challenge since the early 1980s, when the government saw off a 15-year, pro-Chinese communist insurgency.

The latest violence can be traced back to an attack on a Thai Army camp in January in one of the three southern Muslim-majority states bordering Malaysia. Four soldiers were killed, and hundreds of guns were stolen.

In March, suspected militants raided a quarry and seized 58 sticks of dynamite, 180 detonators and 1.4 tons of ammonium nitrate - a fertilizer used to make bombs like the one used in the Bali terrorist attack in October 2002 carried out by JI.

So far, more than 200 people have been killed in a string of such raids, bombings, assassinations and acts of arson and sabotage. There are now fears that calls for revenge among Thailand's southern Muslim majority for last week's "massacre of the martyrs" could provide an opportunity for outside terrorist networks to broaden and deepen their already significant infiltration of the south.

Bangkok initially dismissed the raiders as "bandits and criminals," and steadfastly rejected the theory that "international terrorist groups" were behind the violence. However, it had no choice but to later acknowledge and confront head-on the reality of a more complex separatist threat after it found that at least seven of the dead Islamist insurgents last week were not Thai nationals, and one had the letters JI stitched onto his jacket.

JI seeks to establish a pan-Southeast Asian Islamic state from southern Thailand, through Malaysia, Singapore, across Indonesia and into the southern Philippines.

In addition, regional leaders from JI, Al-Qaeda and the Free Aceh Movement are known to have visited southern Thailand, taking advantage of its lax security and porous borders to recruit volunteers from the disenfranchised local population and to organize arms purchases. JI militants sought by Malaysia and Singapore fled to southern Thailand in 2002, and in June last year Thai police broke up a JI cell and foiled a plot to bomb embassies in Bangkok. Arifin bin Ali, a Singaporean alleged to be a senior member of the terror group, was also arrested in the capital.

Al-Qaeda's operational leader in Southeast Asia, Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, was no stranger to southern Thailand before he was arrested in February north of Bangkok. And after the January raid on the army camp, local officials said one of the suspects was believed to be an Indonesian relative of Hambali.

According to Eric Teo Chu Cheow of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, JI elements met twice in southern Thailand to plan the Bali bomb blasts, and possibly other bomb attacks in Indonesia. Muslims in southern Thailand could have been discreetly plugged into the JI network, he says, and reportedly have close links to the two Muslim rebel groups in the southern Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the more deadly Abu Sayyaf group.

Independent estimates put JI membership in southern Thailand at as high as 10,000, and the military now says that following the recent violence, it is hunting down at least 5,000 armed separatists.

In 1998, Bangkok adopted a radical five-year plan for the south, the renewal of which is now stalled in Parliament. This included a partial military withdrawal, a crackdown on notoriously corrupt Thai officials (often dumped in the south as punishment) and the gradual Islamization of the area. The plan was drawn up with the guiding principle that security for Thailand would be achieved only if Thai Muslims themselves felt secure.

However, its authors could not have anticipated the consequences of the Iraq war, the backlash against the regional crackdown on JI and the constant television images of Israel's suppression of the Palestinian intifada. Surveys have shown that among Muslims in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, the invasion of Iraq, pictures from Guantanamo Bay and tighter US visa regulations for Muslim visitors have severely tarnished America's reputation, and to some extent have had a radicalizing effect.

Such seemingly "anti-Muslim" global developments helped rekindle a historic quest for autonomy among southern Thailand's Muslims - just as Bangkok was effectively dismantling its intelligence apparatus and was militarily less engaged in the area than it had been for over a century.

Indeed, violence subsided in the early 1990s in the southern provinces, historically part of the Muslim kingdom of Pattani, which was annexed by Thailand in 1902. Recreating the lost, idealized Muslim homeland of old has remained a key goal of separatist parties. Lukman B. Lima, the deputy president of the banned Pattani United Liberation Organization, has said that Bangkok "illegally incorporated" the south into Thailand 100 years ago, and continues to rule it with "colonial" repression while "committing crimes against humanity."

Muslim complaints of discrimination in jobs and education have provided fodder for further separatist activity. Causing resentment, too, were reportedly improper arrests and torture, the kidnapping and murder by police officials of a prominent Muslim lawyer defending suspected JI members, and the alleged underlying hand in recent violence of military and police officials vying with each other (and with local criminals) for control of the vast arms and drug smuggling rings operating in the area. In fact, until the recent surge in violence, the separatists were themselves better known for their criminality than their politics.

Buddhist Thai nationalists have fears of their own. In 2002, nationalists played up the "Arab influence" threat following the arrest of some two dozen Middle Eastern suspects for forging travel documents, visas and passports for Al-Qaeda operatives. They were given further ammunition when separatists began targeting government-run secular schools.

Sixteen of the ninteen hijackers were Saudis. There are numerous reports of Saudi financial support of agencies for the spread of Wahhabism throughout the Islamic world. Yet, in the face of this evidence, there is no investigation into whether or not there is fire under the smoke. This is likely due to the business ties of the BFEE/PNAC Petroleum Pirate Posse with the al-Saud and bin Laden families, among others.

If the world is to see peace at some point, this evil business cabal, the source of the funding for activities which are inherently anti-peace, needs to be broken up. This means we need to end our 'alliance' with those who would do us ill. And in this instance, that means the Saudis.

pessimist :: 10:16 AM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!