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Covid-19: Explosives attack on Covid-19 response meeting highlights threat of sustained insurgency campaign in southern Thailand

On 17 March, a double explosive device attack targeting a government meeting at the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center in Yala, southern Thailand, wounded 20 people. The attack occurred as hundreds of local officials and Muslim clerics had gathered to discuss the response to Covid-19 viral outbreak, indicating willingness and ability on the part of the perpetrators to react swiftly and take full advantage of the emergency conditions created by the global pandemic.

In keeping with previous such operations conducted by local Malay Muslim separatist group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), an initial roadside improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated with the likely intention of drawing participants outside from the meeting, whereupon a secondary device emplaced in a pickup truck was detonated. Media quoted police officers who stated that surveillance videos had picked up a suspected attacker fleeing the scene on a waiting motorcycle immediately preceding the explosions. Although no group has so far claimed responsibility, the scale, tactics, and capabilities employed to conduct the attack strongly suggest that the BRN is behind it. Moreover, the BRN rarely acknowledges or denies involvement in such situations.

Long-standing insurgency

The current insurgency in southern Thailand can trace its origins back to a 1948 ethnic and religious separatist movement in the historical, Muslim-majority Malay Patani region. Originally established in 1963, the BRN, an Islamist Patani independence movement in northern Malaysia and Patani, initially prioritised Patani secessionism, but since the 1980s has conducted a low-level insurgency in the region. Its overarching objectives are stated to be freeing Muslims from the “Thai Buddhist occupation”, “discrediting Thai authorities”, and “controlling the ethnic Malay Muslim population”.

Post-blast inspection after double IED-attack in Yala, southern Thailand, on 17 March 2020. (Getty Images)

Post-blast inspection after double IED-attack in Yala, southern Thailand, on 17 March 2020. (Getty Images)

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