Friday, February 18, 2005

Oh Lord Won't You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz?

A car bomb attack on the Marina Hotel in southern Thailand target suggests a new level of capability for Jihadis operating in that area. According to Bloomberg News:

The explosion occurred today at about 7 p.m. Bangkok time in the Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat province, 1,150 kilometers (719 miles) south of Bangkok, Pracha Tayrat, the province's governor, said in an interview with Bangkok-based 96- Megaherz radio. The bomb was placed in a pickup truck in front of the Marina Hotel, he said. "The situation is worsening and becoming more violent with the use of a car bomb," Pracha said. "It's the first time that a car bomb was used in an attack, compared with motorcycles earlier. That will be hard to prevent."

The Thais had formerly feared only motorcycle-borne IEDs. According to the Boston Globe:

"We were paying attention to motorcycles because we thought they might use them as they have before. We never thought that Thais would have become this cruel. Such a car bomb here is similar to those in Iraq," Pracha said. ...

Officials said the bomb, estimated to contain about 220 pounds of fertilizer, exploded in a car behind a hotel in Sungai Kolok, a town near the Malaysian border whose bars and nightclubs are popular with tourists. "This is the first car bomb in the region after we defused a similar one made of a gas cylinder and fertilizer here two years ago," Narathiwat provincial governor Pracha Taerat told Reuters at the scene, littered with charred motorcycles and cars. Sungai Kolok police chief Surasak Rommayanont said four people died instantly at a noodle shop near the blast. A medical officer at the local hospital said more than 40 were injured. Fourteen were taken to hospital, but Pracha said one of them had since died.

Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss testified that Jihadists who survived Iraq would leave it "experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transational terrorist cells, groups, and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries" Whatever the provenance of the new technical sophistication of Islamic attackers in Thailand, it represents an advance in their capabiity to kill. Goss added that terrorist networks in Southeast Asia communicated expertise among themselves. The car bomb technology demonstrated in Thailand had every potential of diffusing regionally. "In Southeast Asia, the Jemaah Islamiya (JI) continues to pose a threat to US and Western interests in Indonesia and the Philippines, where JI is colluding with the Abu Sayyaf Group and possibly the MILF."

The Philippines was recently attacked by three separate bomb attacks on Valentine's Day. One of those was a motorcycle bomb. According to the BBC:

One of Monday's blasts happened in General Santos City, when a bomb destroyed a parked motorcycle taxi outside a shopping mall, killing at least three people. Almost simultaneously, a bomb exploded at a bus terminal in Davao City. A 12-year-old boy is reported to have died in the attack. About half an hour later, a third blast went off in the Makati business district of the capital, Manila, killing at least three people.

It is probably only a matter of time before car bomb attacks are made on cities in Thailand, the Philippines and Australia. It may be recalled that the Philippines withdrew its participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 in the expectation that it would be spared by the Jihadis. A contemporaneous account from MSNBC recalls the jubilation by official Manila after recalling their troops in exchange for the release of a Filipino hostage.

July 22, 2004 -- A Filipino truck driver who was released from captivity in Iraq after the government withdrew its troops a month early returned home to a hero's welcome Thursday. ... The Philippines drew sharp criticism from the United States and other allies over its decision to meet the demands of dela Cruz's kidnappers and withdraw a 51-member peacekeeping contingent from Iraq a month early. The move was branded a dangerous precedent that put other coalition allies in danger. Arroyo has said she does not regret her decision, and her spokesman claims her critics should appreciate that she had to put national interests first.

The recent attacks on the Philippines were accompanied by a demand for the release of Nur Misuari, who led a rebellion after having refusing to step down from office in an autonomous Muslim region when his term had expired. Having succeeded through intimidation in Iraq the Jihadis probably believed that bombs, which they described as a "Valentine's Day gift" would renew his term of office. Already the Filipino Peace Lobby is arguing that further concessions will buy "immunity" and are asking for Misuari's release as a 'confidence building measure'. Perhaps Arroyo now understands that immunity from the Jihad cannot be purchased except by ever greater measures of abjection and tribute: that neither being Buddhist Thailand nor being a 12 year old boy in Davao City makes any difference at all. In the meantime she will expect her ally the United States to stand firm beside the Philippines in the way that she would not. It is more than likely that Arroyo will appease the Peace Lobby and the Jihadis to buy another space of "peace".  It will not last. She should remember that the next Valentine's Day gift from the Jihadis will probably be a string of car bombs.