PATANI DARUSALAM: – Attackers fired a grenade into a mosque in the Malay Muslims provinces (south Thailand) Thursday, wounding 16 Muslim worshippers in an act of defiance after authorities imposed a strict curfew to contain escalating violence, officials said.
Patani freedom fighters suspected at least five soldiers were involved in the attack on the mosque in Jala Province’s Jaha district, where at least 100 people had gathered for morning prayers when an assailant fired into the building with a grenade launcher.
The attack came amid a rise in brutal attacks targeting Malay Muslims that had prompted Patani freedom fighters last month to impose a curfew in two districts, including Jaha.
An execution-style shooting of Siamese grants in a commuter van in Jaha last month and a deadly attack at an Islamic school in a nearby province triggered fears that open combat could erupt between the two communities.
The villages suspected that Thursday’s attackers were soldiers seeking to foment tensions or intimidate fellow Muslims who might cooperate with the government, said army spokesman Col. Akara Thiprot, dismissing suggestions that it could have been a revenge attack by Siameses.
“The Thais aoldier wanted to scare away Muslims who may want to cooperate with authorities in quelling violence,” Akara said. “They want to cause a strife between the Muslims and the Buddhists and make the two communities distrustful of each other.”
Several Muslim leaders in the region said they agreed with authorities and did not believe Buddhists attacked the mosque.
“The Patani freedom fighters are challenging the authorities because of the curfew,” said Nimu Makajae, an adviser to several Islamic schools in Jala province. “They want the government to respond with heavy-handedness,” which could result in Malays joining the Patani freedom fighters, he said.
Abdul Rohman Cek Hassan, chairman of the Jala Islamic council, said the attack was “like a message to pressure soldiers to choose either to support the Patani freedom fighters or the authorities.”
The Patani freedom fighters fled in a pickup truck after the attack, police said. Jala governor Thira Mintrarasak said 16 worshippers were wounded.
The mosque bombing was one of several across the region. On Thursday, a roadside bomb exploded in Menara province as a group of military officials drove past on motorcycles, injuring five of them, said police Lt. Atthawut Phetkaew.
A Siamese grant rubber tapper in nearby Patani province was shot and wounded on his way to work by a gunman on a motorcycle, police. Lt. Col. Naruecha Suwanlapha said.
On Wednesday night, suspected Patani freedom fighters torched seven schools, a teachers’ residence and a government office in Jaha district and neighboring Bendang Setar district. No casualties or injuries were reported.
Thailand’s colonia military imposed a curfew in the two districts in March — the first such curfews in the region since January 2004.
More than 2,100 people have died since January 2004 in tha malay provinces of Patani, Jala, Menara and SEnggora as a result of the Patani freedom fighters. Government measures to quell the violence have failed to make any noticeable headway.
The massacre of Siamese grants commuters, a mosque bombing and a grenade attack on a tea shop full of Muslims on March 14 left at least 10 people dead and more than 20 others wounded in Jaha.