'Economic interests' named as potential motive behind Big C blast in Pattani

'Economic interests' named as potential motive behind Big C blast in Pattani

Army chief says Pattani bombing not about ideology

A Thai army commander based in the deep South believes that the perpetrators behind the Big C bombing in Pattani were more motivated by economic interests than the separatist movement's desire to assert regional autonomy.

Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich, the 4th Army Area Commander in Sirindhorn Camp, Pattani, told the Bangkok Post there is reason to believe the blast was an attack on the presence of big businesses in the area.

"It's clear that they [the perpetrators] wanted the bomb to scare people from coming to the shopping mall," Lt Gen Piyawat said. "In the past five years, the attackers have usually targeted franchise businesses from outside the local area such as 7-Eleven, Tesco Lotus Express and various other convenience stores."

The motivation behind the May 9 Big C Supercenter bombing has yet to be determined by authorities.

However, many initially saw the May 9 bombing as another separatism-related attack.

Lt Gen Piyawat says he noticed the attackers have increasingly targeted large franchises.

"The attackers have chosen business-related locations," he said. "It's possible that they feel that places like Big C are threats to local businesses."

He explained that many local business owners in the deep South provinces feel threatened by the arrival of large franchises in the region.

Since many of these businesses are not fully halal-certified, the conservative Muslim demographic might feel that these stores threaten not only their income levels but their beliefs and customs.

"Many convenience stores have started selling alcoholic beverages, pork meat and other non-halal products," said Lt Gen Piyawat. "Some franchise shops from Bangkok bring in products claiming to be halal, but they are not officially certified by the Central Islamic Council of Thailand.

"Even if fast food chains became fully halal-certified, they still pose a threat to local businesses. Small business owners believe these franchises will steal their income and this can change younger generations' relationship with their religion."

Meanwhile, local business owners -- especially non-Muslims -- are reportedly facing pressure from local "mafia" groups who demand "protection fees" from them.

"I can't confirm this fact yet but I have heard from local business owners that they have to pay protection fees every month to these self-claimed Muslim mafia members. They extort money from business owners in return for the safety and security of their businesses," Lt Gen Piyawat said.

"I will call these owners in to have a meeting regarding this issue. No one should act above the law regardless of their beliefs. If this happens to be true, I will make sure that they are protected and safe from any thugs."

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was quoted saying that the holy month of Ramadan, which began yesterday, should mark a fresh start for a peaceful society in the Muslim-dominated deep South.

"I'd like everyone to adopt religious teachings and join hands to develop our country and protect it against evil-minded people who try to stir up unrest," Gen Prayut said.

The most recent attack has prompted authorities to tighten up security in the region.

Police and army officers in Songkhla have strengthened their security measures in seven main districts, including the downtown areas in Muang district, the Hat Yai business district and Sadao district, which borders Malaysia.

Two suspects have been arrested in the Big C probe thus far.

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