23 August 2016, Pattani, Thailand

31 August, 2016 Hotel Attacks

The Bangkok Post reports that two bombs detonated at the Southern View Hotel in Pattani, Thailand, on 23 August, killing two and wounding 40. The first bomb exploded in a bar inside the hotel at 10:40 pm, causing people to flee the building. As first responders arrived, a second device hidden in an ambulance parked in front of the hotel exploded, causing massive damage.

The Southern View Hotel is an eight-story, 100-room hotel. It appears to be a 3-4 star establishment with a conference center. Damage to the hotel was severe as demonstrated by pictures from the Daily Mail here. Financial estimates of the carnage are reported at 30 million baht, about $867,566.00 USD, but pictures of the damage suggest a higher figure of well over $1 million USD. The blasts damaged 68 nearby properties and more than 14 cars and motorcycles.

Lost business (the hotel will be closed for five months,) insurance payouts, legal maneuvering, and government disbursements to the wounded and families of the deceased (the latter is approximately $215,209.84 USD) will certainly send the bill much higher than $1 million USD.

The tactics used in this case, colloquially referred to as a “double tap,” have been used by southern Thai insurgents before. (A “double tap,” or a two-stage bombing, is when one explosion corrals civilians and first responding emergency personnel into a prearranged killing zone, and then a second explosion directly targets them.) On 17 March 2008, insurgents carried out a practically identical attack on the CS Pattani Hotel, which is just down the road from the Southern View. In the CS Pattani case, a small bomb detonated in the bathroom of the lobby, and 20 minutes later, a car bomb exploded at the upscale cafe in front of the hotel, which is next to the parking lot. The blast killed three and wounded 21.

The major difference in the present case, however, was the use of an ambulance to house the main explosive device. The ambulance (a converted pickup truck) was stolen from a nearby Pattani health facility a mere hour before the attack and parked by a single driver who fled to a waiting motorcycle driven by a second man. Detonation of the bar bomb happened 10 minutes later, which set the “double tap” in motion.

The governor of Pattani, Sithichai Sakda, ordered security increased throughout the province in the wake of the bombings and also in preparation for the anniversary of the founding of the 1990s-era insurgent group, Bersatu (United), on 31 August. It is expected that security throughout the rest of the insurgency zone (Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla) will be increased as well. Additionally, after multiple bombings in mid-southern Thailand from 10-14 August, logic would dictate increased security in the entire Thai south area and tourist sites throughout the rest of the country.

There are five takeaways here. First, the insurgency has massively resurged after a slowdown period of attacks that lasted for part of 2015. Some assumed the insurgency was permanently reduced because of this inactivity. Those pundits have been proven terribly wrong. As an aside, if the government does not increase its counterinsurgency efforts – and this is certainly easier said than done – then the war will only get worse. The government does have a successful history of counterinsurgency, however, and the talent to succeed is indeed there. On the other hand, applying it in Thailand’s complex patronage system, made more difficult by nearly a decade of intense domestic political friction, has been exceedingly difficult.

Second, the Thai insurgency has demonstrated time and again that it targets hotels, and it has done so using double taps, stand-alone car bombs, and bombs planted inside hotels. The fact that hotels in southern Thailand have not increased protection is severely lacking and does not inspire confidence. Hotels in other parts of Thailand should be significantly increasing security as of this writing (30 August 2016.)

Third, because this sensational and headline grabbing hotel attack happened immediately after multiple other dramatic bombings in mid-southern Thailand, it is obvious that the insurgency is ratcheting up the pressure on Bangkok regarding up and coming peace talks that had been shelved for months. The message insurgents are sending is this: “We have the will and the capabilities to attack civilian and tourist targets both inside and outside the insurgency zone, and if negotiations do not go our way, more attacks like these can be expected.” Muir Analytics predicted this would happen in an article for UPI in 2014.

Fourth, using a double tap and an ambulance together signifies calculated and methodical viciousness. It is similar in mentality to the insurgent takeover of a hospital in Narathiwat on 13 March 2016 where they used the building as a firing position on a nearby paramilitary camp. It is also similar in mentality to the bombing spree of tourist spots in mid-southern Thailand from 10-14 August 2016. The main point here is the insurgency seems to becoming more edgy, more malicious. This does not bode well for the future. The indication is that this malicious streak will continue and perhaps even increase. This translates into possibly more damaging and punishing attacks on government and civilian targets alike both inside and outside the insurgency zone. And this certainly includes all tourist areas, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, the mid-south, and other locales. At this point, assuming the insurgents do not have the wherewithal to attack geographically where they want in Thailand is unwise.

Elaborate and/or sensational bombings and even a Mumbai 2008 or a Paris November 2015 style attack cannot be ruled out. The Narathiwat hospital raid proves that the insurgency has the tactical capabilities for these types of raids.

A side issue to now address is this: do the insurgents have the will to mimic in full the Mumbai/Paris attacks, as in kill themselves/fight to the death in the process of a major raid? Assuming that the answer is “no” is tempting fate.

Sources and further reading:

Second victim dies in Pattani hotel bombing,” Bangkok Post, 26 August 2016.

Pattani car bomb suspects caught on CCTV,” Bangkok Post, 25 August 2016.

‘Double tap’ Pattani bombs kill one, wound 30,” Bangkok Post, 24 August 2016.

Tourists warned to stay away from southern Thailand after car bomb at hotel kills one person and wounds 29 others,” Daily Mail, 23 August 2016.

Deep south militants seize hospital to attack military outpost,” Khaosod English, 14 March 2016.

Bombs kill three, wound 21 in Thai Muslim south,” The Star, 17 March 2008.

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