December 2, 2004: Killing of Buddhist teacher in southern Thailand

A Buddhist teacher was gunned down by so-called ‘southern separatists’ in Thailand in December 2004 in yet another violent act in a decades-long conflict

A Buddhist teacher was gunned down by so-called ‘southern separatists’ in Thailand in December 2004 in yet another violent act in a decades-long conflict.

PATTANI PROVINCE, THAILAND – If you are a terrorist movement seeking to carve out an independent homeland what better target than your perceived usurpers?

If you were asked about the first thing that enters your mind when I say ‘Buddhist monk’ I would imagine a few images might pop up:

  • the Dalai Lama;
  • shaved heads and orange robes; or
  • cross-legged sitting men at prayer.

In addition, you would most likely think of a faith that is peaceful and exudes tranquility. It is most unlikely you would go to violence as a typical characteristic.

I hate to burst your bubble, but please meet U Wirathu, aka the Buddhist bin Laden.

This Myanmar monk has engaged in vitriolic hatred in his country, aimed especially at the Muslim minority, concentrated in the northwest, abutting Bangladesh. His poisonous speeches have helped feed what many are calling a genocide against the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled the country to escape death.

And Myanmar is not the only southeast Asian nation to house violent monks. Thailand does too, again aimed at that country’s Muslim minority. I covered this form of violent extremism at length in my most recent book When Religion Kills.

Coupled with this campaign of intolerance towards another faith is a longstanding conflict in southern Thailand by a ragtag bunch of Islamist extremists seeking independence for four provinces near the border with Malaysia. These terrorists usually target law enforcement and the Thai military, but on occasion expand their sights – as today’s featured attack demonstrates.

On this day in 2004 ‘Pattani separatists’ (Pattani is one of the four ‘breakaway’ provinces) killed a Buddhist school teacher as he was driving home from work: a passenger was also wounded. The victim had been followed by two men on a motorbike as he left the school.

Police are convinced that the killing was part of the campaign of unrest by Muslim militants.

Colonel Chalor Yuankerd, deputy superintendent of Saiburi police

Attacks in the region occurred on almost a daily basis since January of 2004 and tensions had been rising sharply since the deaths of 87 Muslim protesters in Narathiwat province (also near the border with Malaysia) the previous October 25.

Islamist extremists have long complained of discrimination by the government of predominantly Buddhist Thailand. And yet, what does killing a schoolteacher have to do with what the regime is doing (or not doing)?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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