Today in Terrorism: 28 October 2004 Bombing at bar in southern Thailand

Two dead in bombing three days after 85 Muslims crushed to death by military.

When a state is faced with a terrorism campaign how far should it go to stop it? Every government has a right to prevent terrorist attacks from happening and every citizen expects nothing less. Beyond that, the variety of responses ranges widely.

In a country like Canada agencies such as CSIS and the RCMP investigate potential threats with the aim of bringing those intent on violent extremist acts to trial. In others, air strikes are used to obliterate these threats (and often innocent civilians at the same time). At times, states will use torture or other unsavoury methods to lock up suspects, sometimes killing them.

As a Canadian I unsurprisingly favour the first method, i.e. the lawful use of tools to identify malefactors and the courts to punish them. This approach may not always work: bad guys do succeed on occasion and even those charged can be acquitted, much to the frustration of the organisations that painstakingly build the best case possible.

Unfortunately, the actions taken by some authorities are not only inhuman but counterproductively lead to more terrorism. This may have happened in 2004 in southern Thailand.

First some context.

On 25 October 2004 1,500 people gathered in front of a police station in Tak Bai to protest the detention of six men. Several hours into the protest, they tried to broach the police barrier into the station and authorities responded with tear gas and water cannons. Almost 1,300 protesters, mostly Muslims, were detained at the scene, ordered to strip to the waist, lie on their stomachs, and crawl to nearby trucks that would transport them to another site. The detainees were then stacked atop one another in trucks and transported to an army camp in Pattani province and by the trucks arrived at the destination, 78 detainees had died from suffocation or organ collapse. No officer was charged in the incident despite a government inquiry.

Tak Bai massacre file pictures
Detainees prior to being loaded onto the truck where 85 would suffocate to death (Photo: AP)

Three days later a bomb exploded outside a bar frequented by tourists in Narathiwat province, killing two tourists, one Malaysian and one Thai, and wounding 21. The attack may have in revenge for the Tak Bai massacre. It was unclear whether the bar was the intended target as a police station was also nearby.

Southern Thailand has been rocked with Islamist terrorism for decades, a subject I examined in some detail in my third book The Lesser Jihads. It is showing no real signs of abating even if attacks rarely kill or wound more than a few people at a time.

Still, stacking 1,300 men like cord wood in a truck is not a solution. It may be easy to understand the frustration of army and police officers faced with a mob. But is the first rule not always ‘do no harm’? If your actions lead to more terrorism is what you are doing really counter terrorism?

Phil Gurski

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