Thai Muslims 'unlikely' to link up with ISIS militants

No Thai Muslims have joined Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants or pledged allegiance so far, say government officials and community leaders. In fact, they think it is unlikely to happen.

Colonel Pramote Prom-In, a spokesman for the army's Internal Security Operations Command unit in the southern border provinces, where Malay-Muslim separatists have been waging battle with the state, told The Straits Times: "We haven't heard, seen, or found any movements connecting to ISIS here in the south."

This is because the insurgency is ethno-nationalist rather than purely religious in nature, said security consultant Don Pathan, who is based in the southern province of Yala.

Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and a part of Songkhla province belonged to a sultanate until they were annexed by then Siam a century ago. The majority Malay- Muslims there maintain a distinct culture and speak a Malay dialect.

Over the years, as insurgents attacked security officers and other symbols of the Thai state, the government has poured troops and paramilitary officers into the region, exacerbating the local people's sense of domination.

About 6,000 people have been killed since 2004. The military government says it is restarting peace talks that stalled during the political turbulence prior to the coup in May last year.

Mr Don expects the ISIS cause to have very little resonance in Thailand's deep south.

International terror groups "like the Jemaah Islamiah and Al-Qaeda have tried to penetrate and take advantage of the movement here, but failed", he said.

Both groups were responsible for terrorist attacks in South-east Asia and other parts of the world.

Pattani-based civil society leader Wae-Isma-Ael Nasae said: "The Thai Muslims here don't want the fight to widen. We are fighting our own battle, we don't join forces or send people to join other forces in other countries. If we do that... it will get messier."

tanhy@sph.com.sg