Report ties IS suspects to South
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Report ties IS suspects to South

Jihadist meet probe under way, says PM

An Islamic State flag flies at a building in Jarablus, Syria. Reports Thursday said the IS has tried and failed to make an alliance with separatists in the deep South. (Reuters photo)
An Islamic State flag flies at a building in Jarablus, Syria. Reports Thursday said the IS has tried and failed to make an alliance with separatists in the deep South. (Reuters photo)

Authorities are investigating a report that three people with suspected links to Islamic State (IS) terrorists met religious leaders in Narathiwat late last year, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday.

According to security intelligence sources, the three suspects were Indonesian, Malaysian and Singapore nationals. They gave donations to religious leaders at a mosque in Narathiwat's Sungai Kolok district and asked that local students be taught about the IS, the sources said.

Gen Prayut said Thursday that authorities were verifying the report.

"We have to watch out for things that have an impact on other countries or the world community," Gen Prayut said.

"Sometimes, talking about some issues will yield no benefit. It will help perpetrators escape. There is no need to know everything. Some things have to be kept secret. Some things need managerial skills to make sure the country is not troubled and the people do not panic."

He said the government has constantly improved security measures by increasing the efficiency of security officers, buying new security technology and boosting intelligence exchanges with other countries.

Fourth Region Army commander Wiwat Pathomphak Thursday said he has assigned Narathiwat Special Task Force 36 to investigate the matter because the issue is sensitive.

However, he denied rumours the three suspects from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had been arrested.

"No arrests have been made," Lt Gen Wiwat said. "There is only a report that this group of people donated money to a local mosque and asked local religious leaders to teach students about the IS."

He said some people might be confused as authorities had earlier arrested three other suspects. But that group had nothing to do with the IS, he said. They were only suspected of being involved in daily violence in the deep South.

Security offices have checked their backgrounds with neighbouring countries and it was confirmed there were no connections between the arrested three suspects and the IS, Lt Gen Wiwat said.

According to the Isara News Agency, residents in Sungai Kolok admitted late last year suspects from Indonesia and Malaysia visited religious leaders at the mosque, although the residents did not know whether the suspects were linked to the IS.

Wichuda Awae, deputy chief of the tambon Muno administrative organisation at Sungai Kolok said individuals or representatives from organisations from Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia usually visited the mosque, or gave scholarships to religious schools in the area.

She said she was not sure if the three suspects were linked to the IS, and said the report needed to be verified.

The news agency also reported that the religious leaders and the religious schools agreed to receive the donations because they were given without any strings attached.

Narathiwat Task Force commander Ekkarat Changkaew said intelligence reports earlier suggested a group of people with suspected links to the IS might have sneaked into the three southern border provinces, and used the areas, particularly Sungai Kolok, as hideouts.

Security forces have been stepped up along the border, including natural border channels, to prevent them from entering the country, Maj Gen Ekkarat said.

Narathiwat Special Task Force 36 commander Noppadon Phakapol said no IS activities had been detected in the province so far, though security forces are always on high alert.

A security source said religious leaders or religious schools in the area which have received donations from abroad have been asked to cooperate with agencies which will examine the sources of donations to prevent any insurgent groups from infiltrating into the country.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, admitted intelligence suggested that a group of suspects with alleged links to the IS visited religious leaders in Sungai Kolok.

Authorities were investigating if the suspects just held normal talks with the religious leaders, or whether they tried to "convince" them, Mr Panitan said, adding that previously several "worrying" groups often met local religious leaders and security agencies had constantly monitored them.

So far, things that could pose concerns for Thailand had not yet been detected, Mr Panitan said.

He said neighbouring countries in Asean has also provided the government with information relating to individuals with suspected links to the IS and the government has enforced strict security measures to prevent them from entering the country.

A source said that previously a group of Shia Muslims tried to enter the three southern border provinces by offering their financial support to local mosques, although they were met with resistance from residents who oppose the use of violence.

A security source said chiefs of intelligence units under the Internal Security Operations Command met Thursday to discuss the matter. All intelligence units had confirmed no activities by IS-linked elements have been detected, the source said.

Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, who oversees security affairs, said Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan will meet with him Friday to discuss terrorism in the region and cooperation between the two countries to deal with the issue.

Police spokesman Detnarong Sutthichanbancha said no IS suspects were found in Narathiwat.

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