A bomb blast has torn through the commercial centre of Thailand’s capital Bangkok, killing at least 21 people and wounding 120 more. Police have confirmed that the dead include 10 Thais, one Chinese national and one Filipino. The nationalities of the others who died in the explosion are still being determined.
The explosive device, believed to be a 3 kilogram pipe bomb, went off at about 19:00 local time (12:00 GMT) on Monday near the Erawan Hindu shrine, a major tourist attraction just off the Ratchaprasong intersection. Police officials have confirmed that a second, similar device was found at the scene of the explosion and has been removed by bomb disposal experts. Nearby offices were evacuated and the intersection was cleared while the operation was in progress, as police officers feared that the second device might explode at any moment. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Described by Prayuth Chan-ocha as “the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand” , the Thai Prime Minister has accused the attackers of targeting innocent lives and wanting to destroy the country’s economy and tourism. While it is not yet clear who was behind the attack and what their motives were, Prayuth has said that authorities are searching for a individual who was captured CCTV near the scene of the bombing.
Speculation has been rife as the the attacker’s allegiances, with some suggesting Malay Muslim insurgents from the country’s south who have been fighting Thai rule for over a decade and others accusing the Red Shirt movement, an anti-government group from the North East. A less plausible alternative is that Chinese Uighurs, the Muslim minority group from Xinjiang region in western China, targeted the site, which is known to be popular with Chinese tourists. If this were the case, and it seems unlikely that it is, it could conceivably be in retaliation for the deportation of 100 Uighurs from Thailand to China last month.
According to a new report into international terrorism released this week, the number of deaths caused by terrorism increased by 61% between 2012 and 2013.
The 2014 Global Terrorism Index has revealed that in 2013, there were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks globally, which represents a 44% increase from the previous year. Over the past year, 17958 people died from terrorist attacks, with the largest increase in deaths primarily due to the on-going civil war in Syria, which began in 2011. Of this number, 14,7222, or 80% of the total of deaths, occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. India, Somalia, the Philippines, Yemen and Thailand were the next five, accounting for between 1% and 2.3% of global deaths due to terrorism.
According to the report, which is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 66% of all deaths from terrorist attacks in 2012 were due to four main terrorist groups: Islamic State, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram. Iraq was the country that was most affected by terrorism in 2013, with more than 6,000 people dying. The report notes that “not only is the intensity of terrorism increasing, its breadth is increasing as well.”
The report, which also investigates terrorism between 2000 and 2013, indicated that while Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries only experienced 5% of all deaths from terrorism since 2000, the report did note that these countries suffered some of the deadliest attacks that have been carried out over the past thirteen years. This includes the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States; the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain; the 2005 London bombings and the 2012 bombing and shooting attack that occurred in Norway. In 2013, Turkey and Mexico were the OECD countries that had the highest number of deaths from terrorism, 57 and 40 respectively.
The regional measures that followed the spike of piracy in South East Asia in the early 2000s are widely, and rightly, hailed as a successful example of maritime security co-operation. However, piracy is now undergoing a dramatic increase again in the region, with Indonesian waters now suffering the largest number of attacks worldwide as the pirates increasingly adapt to the new security situation.
In 2003, piracy reached record highs in South East Asia, with 445 incidents reported in Indonesian waters and similarly high levels in other regional nations. Following this, the nations that border the strategically crucial Straits of Malacca (Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, with some assistance from Thailand and India) made moves to improve their naval co-operation in order to deal with the growing piracy crisis. Well publicised publicity campaigns with dramatic pictures of large warships patrolling the Straits highlighted a significantly more robust security posture, which saw a drastic reduction in rates of piracy.
This attempt to present a ‘United Front’ masks many legitimate issues between the nations – extremely disparate geographical positions, economies, military expenditure and naval strength all continue to cause friction. However the attempt at regional co-operation was broadly successful for several years, and even now with piracy once more on the rise through South East Asia, the Straits of Malacca themselves remain broadly safe for international shipping (at least compared to the past).
However, with a 440% increase in piracy in Indonesian waters between 2009 and 2012, it appears that the security response is now proving less effective than previously. This is largely because pirates have adapted to the new security situation. Instead of attempting to attack and hijack vessels in transit in the Straits of Malacca, they instead focus on boarding and robbing ships berthed in the Indonesian harbours along the Straits. From 2004 to December last year, Indonesian anchorages were placed on the U.S Coast Guard port advisory list because of their poor security, a ban only lifted following some American investment and training. It is worth noting that the US was concerned primarily with counter-terrorist performance, and many nominal improvements directed at preventing piracy and armed robberies are likely ineffective.
Similarly, pirates have also moved their bases of operations to avoid the naval forces and attack ships entering or exiting the Straits. Instead of their traditional bases actually in the Straits of Malacca themselves, many are now based to the south, using secretive parts of Jambi province for their hideaways. Others have moved east towards the South China Sea, and operate instead on the open seas far from coasts and patrols. The isolated island groups in these areas, such as the Anambas and Natuna islands, are remote and located close to the major international shipping lanes entering the Straits. Another island, Pulau Batam near Singapore, has also emerged as another favoured base of operations – as a source of cheap manufacturing for Singapore, severe economic difficulties and influxes of poor migrants have provided both the motivation and a ready labour pool, including local fisherman, for piracy targeted at ships in the Malacca straits. These coastal regions are remote and covered with mangrove swamps and shallow inlets and estuaries – perfect locations for hiding pirate vessels.
So far, it appears the nations in this region, particularly Indonesia, are failing to make the necessary adaptations to the new environment, leading to the resurgence of piracy in the region. The authorities tend to focus purely on the military and political aspects of piracy, with no attempts to deal with the root economic causes. The large warships that protect the Straits of Malacca are in general too big to track pirates back to their bases, with this task usually left to lower level local law enforcement, often equipped only with small wooden boats. This problem is particularly pronounced in Indonesia, which has the weakest navy in the region and the largest coastline, and as the world’s largest archipelagic nation has over 18’000 islands perfectly suited to hiding pirate activity. Until a new security approach is taken that accounts for the now changed environment, it appears that the trend of increasing piracy in South East Asia will continue.