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Radical Islamists in Thailand execute bus full of Buddhist women and children in jihad claiming lives daily

March 14, 2007

Police line up the victims in the aftermath of the attack on a minibus in Yala province

Surapan Boonthanom/Reuters

Police line up the victims in the aftermath of the attack on a minibus in Yala province

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor

Nine people, including four women and two children, were shot through the head today in one of the most shocking attacks so far in Thailand's worsening Islamic insurgency.

The victims were passengers on a commercial minibus in the far south of the country, where several thousand people have been murdered over the past three years. They were travelling from Yala province to the city of Hat Yai in the neighbouring province of Songkhla when they were stopped by gunmen who had placed logs across the road.

"When the bus slowed down, they opened fire," said a policeman at the scene. "The bus veered off the road, and then the militants got on and shot the passengers in the head at point-blank range."

Police arrived to find the minibus in a ditch, with the victims slumped in their seats where they had died. They included four women, and two girls aged 14 and 15. One passenger survived with serious injuries, as well as the driver, who was shot in the face. A small roadside bomb exploded nearby soon after the massacre, apparently placed to hinder any pursuit of the attackers.

According to the local police, the dead included teachers, students, traders, farmers and a soldier. All were Buddhists, apart from the driver who, like 80 per cent of the population of Thailand's three southernmost provinces, is Muslim.

More than 2,000 people have been killed over the past three years in a brutal undeclared war between the Thai security forces and a ghostly, cruel and mysterious Islamic insurgency. Its victims have included monks, teachers and soldiers from the Buddhist north of the country, as well as Muslim villagers, and many real or alleged insurgents killed by the security forces.

On average, somebody is murdered most days in southern Thailand. In the past week alone, a Burmese migrant worker has been beheaded, schools have been burnt down and a bomb has exploded at a morning market. But even by such dismal standards today's attack was rare in its scale and cold-blooded brutality.

The security forces seem to have made little progress in stamping out the insurgency, or even identifying its leaders and goals. It is assumed that the aim of the attacks is to drive out Buddhist migrants and establish the three southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani as an independent sultanate which they were until their incorporation into Siam a century ago.

But there have been no manifestos or demands, and there are no active insurgent websites or spokesmen. Nor is there any sign that the movement has been infiltrated by international terrorist organisations such as Jemaah Islamiyah, the al-Qaeda affiliate which carried out the Bali bombing in 2002.

Thai security forces were anticipating potential attacks this week which marks the 44th anniversary of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional or National Revolutionary Front, one of a number of shadowy groups suspected of playing a part in the insurgency.

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