PATTANI: The murder of a respected Islamic teacher in this restive southern province on Tuesday night was an act of terrorist behaviour, the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Malaysia arrested a separatist and former leader of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) on unclear "security grounds" and his whereabouts were unknown Wednesday (details below).
Awae Tohsatu, 54, had contributed greatly to the restoration of peace in the far South and his death is greatly lamented, said Col Pramote Phrom-in in his capacity as spokesman for the Isoc's Region 4 Forward Command.
Awae, a teacher at Ponoh Padaela-nga School, was shot dead about 9.30pm as he left a mosque with his family after prayers in Moo 5 village of tambon Puloh Puyo in Nong Chik district.
Police said they collected evidence from the scene of the crime including 9mm and 11mm bullet cartridges as well as other ammunition.
They said they will now look into what may have prompted the killing as the victim had a number of important roles in education, religion and peace-building.
Col Pramote said the teacher was a key figure in local religious circles who adhered to the tenets of Islam and helped the government create better understanding with local people as well as convincing many insurgents to defect.
Awae had also served as a justice adviser to Isoc's southern command since 2007, and declared himself against all forms of insurgent violence, the spokesman said.
The teacher's murder was an act of "extreme, dictatorial and terrorist behaviour", he added.
Awae was shot three times -- once to the right side of his torso, his right arm, and through the forehead.
According to Soh Tohsatu, the victim's wife, she and Awae were heading home from prayers with their son when the attack took place. The family lived in the school compound about 30 metres from the mosque.
In Malaysia Sama-ae Thanam, a former leader of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), has been arrested by Malaysian authorities on a charge related to security, said Supanat Sirantawineti, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC).
Sama-ae was detained by Malaysian officials two days ago after visiting relatives in Perak in the northern part of Malaysia where he runs a restaurant.
Mr Supanat said it was not confirmed whether Sama-ae had been released. But a source said Wednesday friends of the separatist could not contact him.
After his release from 17 years imprisonment in 2015, Sama-ae received his first Thai ID card. (Post Today file photo)
Prior to the arrest, Malaysian officers arrested a group of people in Kelantan accused of being involved in arms smuggling on behalf of supporters of the Islamic State.
The officers had earlier killed a suspect who resisted arrest on an undisclosed charge. They had searched the suspect's mobile phone and found the number of a Thai woman in Malaysia. The police searched her house where they found a Pulo flag. The woman claimed she knew Sama-ae.
Malaysian officials later detained Sama-ae at his restaurant for further questioning, according to an unnamed source.
After spending more than 17 years behind bars, Sama-ae was released from prison on July 17, 2015. He was originally sentenced to life imprisonment but the Thai government later reduced his term for good behaviour.
He joined the Pulo movement that took up arms against the government in a bid to separate the Muslim-dominated region in the southernmost provinces.
Mr Supanat said that Sama-ae was released because he promised to help facilitate the peace process between Thailand and Malaysia, adding that he had helped talk to young people in the region to convince them not to try and join the separatist movement.
Sama-ae also helped Thais who had escaped to Malaysia return to Thailand and identified children who were born to Thai parents in the southernmost provinces.