A terrorism expert has suggested Australians exercise extreme caution when travelling to Thailand in the wake of coordinated attacks in tourism hotspots in the country’s south.
Curtin University’s national and international relations expert Dr Mark Briskey said the attacks, which left four people dead and 34 injured, were “extremely unusual” despite that region’s history of unrest.
“People should consult the DFAT travel website and seriously reconsider their travel plans and exercise caution,” Dr Briskey told The New Daily.
On Friday (AEST) two people were killed in four blasts in the upscale tourist town of Hua Hin, home to the summer palace of Thailand’s royal family.
On the same day, the popular Phuket Island, which attracts 25,000 Australian tourists a month, was rocked by two blasts in the town of Patong but there were no casualties.
Thai authorities revealed they had also defused another two bombs in Patong earlier in the same week.
Bombs were also detonated in the town of Surant Thani on Friday, killing one, and in the town of Trang on Thursday, also killing one.
Local media reported the province of Phang Nga was also rocked by blasts.
The coordinated attacks occurred on the 84th birthday of Queen Sirikit and ahead of the one-year anniversary of the bombing of Erawan Shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people. The perpetrators of that attack were never caught.
The attacks marked the first time tourists have been targeted in the ongoing insurgency in Thailand’s southern areas, which have a Muslim majority.
“This conflict has been boiling on for 12 years at least and about 6000-7000 people have been killed, but it’s under the [global] radar usually,” Dr Briskey said.
“What makes this unusual are the bombings have targeted very high profile tourist areas. Historically they’ve targeted authorities or the military.”
Who is responsible?
While perpetrators are yet to claim responsibility, it’s likely the attacks were the work of local insurgent groups who have been fighting for independence from heavy-handed military rule in the region since the early 2000s.
The attacks followed last week’s referendum approving Thailand’s new Constitution, which gives greater power to the military – something pro-autonomy fighters would likely be unhappy about.
‘A very heavy hand will be applied’
Dr Briskey said the attacks endangered Thailand’s lucrative tourism industry, a fact the government will likely be concerned about.
“I do think people should reconsider travel to these areas until the Thai government can legitimately say, ‘We have caught and captured the people who are responsible for this,'” Dr Briskey said.
“It’s enough to create a real concern … We might see next week attention being paid to other tourist areas in Thailand, closer to Bangkok.”
On the plus side, Dr Briskey said the royal family would have been “embarassed” by the attacks and concerned over their proximity to the summer palace, while the government would be looking to limit the impact on tourism in the area.
“The good news is the Thai authorities will be extremely motivated to nip this in the bud,” Dr Briskey said.
“There will be a heavy hand applied to this as we speak.”
Thai police have detained two men in relation to the attacks.