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Like many Islamic insurgencies, they claim mainly Muslim victims.
year of a campaign to bring all of Thailand’s remote hinterlands under strict central control. To this day, the region’s powerful positions are typically reserved for Thai Buddhists.
Villagers are equally weary of a never-ending “state of emergency” that allows soldiers to detain anyone, for any reason, for up to 30 days. Sometimes, Pratubjit said, young men driven into army camps do not walk out.
And it doesn’t help that, for years, the army and police used the south as a Siberia-style dumping ground for mischief-prone officers who’d pissed off superiors.
“As a consequence, most officers sent to the south were corrupted,” said Col. Werachon Sukondhapatipak, a Royal Thai Army spokesman. “They perhaps stay there, work there and abuse the locals ... and it resulted in that area becoming a dark zone.”
Network without a core
Most agree that the overwhelming majority of deep south Muslims just want to get to work without getting shot. But some are swept into an estimated 8,000-person guerilla force imbued with magic rituals.
The insurgents’ shadowy nature is its most defining attribute. “We’d like to invite the terrorists to tea,” said Lt. Gen. Pichet Wisaijorn, former commander of Thailand’s fourth army, which oversees the counterinsurgency. “But we don’t know who all of them are.”
Neither do the insurgents themselves.
The mujahideen appear to obey no single Osama bin Laden-style chieftain. Most don’t even know the identities of fellow guerillas just one province over. Instead, they operate as a “network without a core,” according to Duncan McCargo, a University of Leeds professor and insurgency researcher who was recently based in Pattani.
Entry-level supporters prove themselves by spraying revolutionary graffiti or torching government buildings. Trusted recruits progress to killings arranged by mid-tier commanders. But they are rarely exposed to the identities of fighters outside their village cell, according to McCargo.
“Before, we had uniforms,” Kasturi said. “Now we have no such thing. We’re among the people, working daily, and you cannot see who we are.”
The guerillas’ funding sources are murky. Thai authorities are forever associating them with extortion rackets, weapons smuggling and narcotics trafficking. A portion of their arms are obtained through brazen smash-and-grab army depot raids and robberies of quarries that stock explosives.
The jihadis are also emboldened by incantations and spells. According to army interrogations of captured militants, imams often order recruits to swallow paper marked with 24 Quranic vows. The promised effect? Bullet-proof skin.
In a bizarre 2004 attack documented by McCargo, young men under an imam’s guidance believed themselves invisible and suicidally rushed at military camps to snatch up as many guns as they could carry. Many were armed with only kitchen knives. Though more than 100 were shot dead, some made off with a precious cache of rifles.
Much has changed since then. The insurgency network is now directed by one core group, BRN-C, which is propped up by Kasturi’s old-guard PULO organization. Their skills today far exceed early attempts at bare-hands raids and alarm-clock bombs.
Formally titled the “National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate” in English, BRN-C is now “behind all the almost all of the insurgency violence,” said Anthony Davis, an analyst at Jane’s Intelligence Review. “That one organization has been pushing all the buttons.”
Outside of the occasional cryptic statement from Kasturi, however, rebels do not address the public. “There’s no real telephone number to call,” Davis said. “We can’t get quotes from ‘Mullah Whoever.’ And the guys letting off bombs and shooting people are not leaving behind calling cards.”
Instead, they scatter chilling pamphlets around victims’ corpses.
Some notes are directed towards Buddhists:
“Dogs. Pigs. Shit. Garbage. I’ll give you three days to leave my land. Otherwise, I will kill, burn, destroy all Buddhist Thai property. If you leave the house, travel or go to work, you will die violently.”
Some threaten fellow Muslims:
“Do not accept any help, things, money or gold from infidel officers because those are poisons ... Do not go see doctors in infidel hospitals. It is a big sin. ... Otherwise, you will be killed. If we kill you, we kill for Allah on high.”
And others attempt to justify their executions:
“They killed innocent Muslims, they raped our women and children, and they caused us pain and humiliation that is hard to erase ... They treated us like baby chicks in their fists. For all these reasons, do the soldiers deserve to live?”
Follow Patrick Winn on Twitter: Follow @BKKApologist