Sat, 11 Jan 2003

Overhaul needed to identify terrorists

The Nation Asia News Network Bangkok

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra made good sense in dealing with the issue of terrorism as he ordered an overhaul of the national intelligence system in late December so as to have more accurate and systematic information to detect the movements of terrorists. He has come to realize that this country has some involvement with terrorists, rather than denying the presence of terrorist cells networking in the Kingdom, as his government had done previously.

But the premier also needs to tell security and intelligence agencies that the proper way is not just to say: "We have seen many terrorists at home."

The Foreign Ministry became the first agency to officially admit that some "suspected terrorists" were in Thailand. The ministry announced Riduan Isamuddin, or Hambali, the alleged operational commander of the extremist Muslim group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), had transited Thailand within a day, but officials at the ministry have no idea why he was in our country.

Commander of Special Branch Police Tritos Ronnaritivichai told the international media that he had more news: Not only Hambali but also alleged al-Qaeda operative Mohammad Mansour Jabarah and high-ranking JI member Mukhlas visited Thailand early in 2002. But it remains unclear why the commander informed the public nearly a year after their visits.

Chief of the National Security Council (NSC) Winai Pattiyakul went a bit beyond his colleagues when he accused unidentified Thai Muslims in the South of supporting JI members.

The NSC chief made the statement without solid evidence to prove his allegation, saying only that Thais who were educated in the same places as JI members might shelter the militants.

It is hard to understand why the chief of the national security agency needed to make such a statement in public when he had as yet no idea who the JI supporters might be.

The reactions of the above authorities reflect nothing but paranoia in response to mounting reports of a terrorist presence in the Kingdom by the international media.

The PM's order to coordinate intelligence work was a necessary one. This nation requires accurate information about terrorists, rather than official knee-jerk reactions after media reports.

But the key question is: Will the suspects really make any trouble for this country?

The government has to develop many instruments of intelligence and laws to deal with terrorists.

The government should also speed up its entry as a party to the International Convention Against Terrorism since there remain eight international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism that Thailand has not agreed to yet.