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Blasts hit confidence; Security tightened; Bomb expert trained suspects

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Blasts hit confidence; Security tightened; Bomb expert trained suspects | The Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– Thailand news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Confidence of tourists will be hit by blasts
PHUKET (The Nation): Tourism business operators believe that Tuesday’s bomb blasts in Bangkok will have a slight impact on the industry in the current first quarter of the year, according to a survey by the Center for Economic and Business Forecasting (CEBF) of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

However, further incidents would have a longer and larger impact on the economy – especially due to an increase in travel warnings issued by embassies, the number of which could exceed 20. Currently 13 embassies are posting terrorism warning messages on Thailand, said Thanavath Phonvichai, the CEBF’s director.

During the current quarter, the number of foreign tourists is expected to drop by 100,000-200,000 and the nation will lose 20 billion baht in tourism revenue, Thanavath said.

However, the situation will begin to rebound in the second and third quarters and the incidents will have a marginal impact on the economy of 0.1 – 0.2 per cent.

The survey was conducted on Wednesday, with 650 samples from trading, services, and production businesses. Of the total, 42.7 per cent were small businesses, 30.5 per cent medium, and 26.8 per cent were large.

According to the survey, 87.2 per cent said the explosions would have some impact on the tourism industry. Of the total, 20 per cent said the impact would be “big”, and 37.8 per cent said “medium”.

Moreover, 51.1 per cent of the participants said they were not sure how large the impact on their business would be, while 45.7 per cent said they had not yet seen any impact.

When asked about business during the next three months, 76.1 per cent said there would be no impact on the number of local travelers, and 39.1 per cent said the same of foreign tourists. Also, 56.5 per cent believed that the incidents would not result in any tour-package cancellations and also 42.2 per cent said the incident would not affect their earnings.

Thanavath said the issue varied from country to country and included backpackers. For example, he said European tourists realized such incidents can happen anywhere, and this would have a slight impact on the industry. Asian tourists are quite worried, he said.

Bomb expert trained suspects
PHUKET (The Nation): One of the four Middle East men captured by security cameras during the blasts in Bangkok on Valentine’s Day was suspected to be a bomb expert who passed on his bomb making skills to the other three, police said yesterday.

Police also had the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court approve arrest warrants for the three Iranian men at the scene and an Iranian woman, Leila Rohani, 32, who reportedly has fled to Tehran, out of Thai police’s reach.

The wounded suspect, Saeid Moradi, 28, faces charges of making explosives, possessing explosives without a permit, causing explosions that endangered others and attempting to murder on duty police and other persons. The three other suspects are wanted for the first three charges.

The police investigation team held their first meeting. Metropolitan Police chief Winai Thongsong said Special Branch police contacted Malaysia to seek the extradition of suspect Seda Ghatzadeh Masoud, 31, who flew to Kuala Lumpur, while Mohammad Hazaei, 42, arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport, would initially face the charge of launching bomb attacks.

In trying to determine if the explosions were related to the bomb attacks in India and Georgia, police have asked parties for more information.

Initially, the Bangkok bomb materials appear similar to what was used in the attacks on Israeli interests in other countries, in that magnets would affix the bomb to a car target, he added.

According to a source at the national security agency, prior to the first explosion at the suspects’ rented house near Sukhumvit Soi 71, witnesses said they saw an Iranian man in his 50s and 150160cm tall going out of the house with a large luggage case at about 7am.

Security footage showed that in the week before the blasts, this man went in and out of the house on a daily basis, the source said. He was also seen in the Thong Lor and Khlong Tan areas after the blasts and when Hazaei was arrested at Suvarnabhumi.

The man was suspected of being a bomber or taking explosive materials to teach the three Iranians to make bombs, the source said, adding that Israeli officials also gave information to Thai police in this case.

Pol Lt General Wiboon Bangtamai, commissioner of the Immigration Bureau, said Rohani was now in Tehran, Iran’s capital.

“We can’t ask Iran to send her back to Thailand as we have no extradition treaty with that country,” he said.

Rohani was suspected of being the one who rented the house where the three Iranian men stayed and where the first device exploded, apparently by accident.

Rohani’s absence would not affect the case, as she had only rented the house. Thai police have enough evidence such as footage from security cameras and bomb materials found in the house, he added.

However, police searched her room at the house and turned up some more evidence, but offered no details.

Deputy police chief Pansiri Prapawat said that, besides the four wanted Iranians, police were also gathering information for an arrest warrant for a Middle East man who might be involved and checking if he was still in Thailand.

Police would continue to comb the damaged house and search two or three other places that the four Iranians had been seen frequenting. The house had so far not shown any signs of any terrorist group. Suppliers should alert police if foreigners buy a suspicious amount of material that could be used in bomb making, he added.

Wanchai Rujanawong, directorgeneral of the Office of the Attorney General’s Foreign Affairs Bureau, said the extradition of Masoud from Malaysia would take some time. The agency was waiting for the submission of case documents from police, which would need to be translated, and would then proceed according to the Thai-British extradition treaty. Britain used to rule Malaysia. If that couldn’t apply, Thai authorities would try diplomatic leverage of reciprocal trade with Malaysia.

Dr Prasert Triwijitsilpa, deputy director of Chulalongkorn Hospital, said Moradi, who lost both his legs in one blast, was in stable condition and remained unconscious and on respiratory assistance. Doctors would keep him under surveillance for 72 hours for signs of infection.

Kluaynamthai Hospital released one of the blast victims, 82 year old Kangwal Horprasatthong.

Security tightened at Israeli Embassy
PHUKET (The Nation): Heavy security has been provided for the Israeli embassy – set in a tall building in central Bangkok – in addition to all international airports, following the three explosions on Tuesday, reportedly part of an operation to target Israel’s diplomats and interests in Thailand.

Fourteen countries, including Israel and the United States, have issued travel advisories urging their nationals against entering or traveling in Thailand. Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul said that the warnings should not be in effect for long, because “most suspects” had been arrested.

An academic on international security, Theeranan Nanthakhwang, said the three suspects were possibly preparing to target or kill Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak who was sch

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Riot police officer in Bangkok tests positive for Covid-19

Caitlin Ashworth

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Riot police officer in Bangkok tests positive for Covid-19 | The Thaiger
Protest in Bangkok on February 28 / Photo by Thai News Pix

A riot police officer, who was deployed at the recent pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, has tested positive for Covid-19. His supervisor, chief of Wang Thonglang station Ekapop Tanprayoon, says the officer had visited Samut Sakhon, a coronavirus hotspot.

Riot police who worked closely with the infected officer, Somyot Nuamcharoen, are ordered to quarantine. The Wang Thonglang police station and any items the police officer handled are being disinfected, the chief says.

The officer had met up with friends during a visit to Samut Sakhon, just southwest of Bangkok. He travelled to the coastal province on February 18 and returned to Bangkok the next day.

On the 20th, he was deployed to a protest outside of parliament, just after returning from his trip to the “red zone” province. On Sunday, he deployed the protest outside the military barracks in Bangkok. The demonstration turned violent and numerous people were injured.

On Tuesday, his friend from Samut Sakhon tested positive for the virus. The infected officer was tested for Covid-19 that day and his result came back positive yesterday.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Transport

“Sealed route” set at Bangkok airport for international transfers

Caitlin Ashworth

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“Sealed route” set at Bangkok airport for international transfers | The Thaiger
Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok / Photo by Caitlin Ashworth

Thailand is now allowing international transits and transfers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by using a so-called “sealed route” arranged at the airport to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has now set guidelines for passengers who have a layover at the Bangkok airport.

Passengers will not be allowed to leave Concourse E. A “sealed route” for the passengers will be set up at Gate E10 and E9, allowing passengers to enter the airport at Gate E10, go through security screening and then either board the transit aircraft at Gate E9 or go on a designated shuttle bus directly to an aircraft.

Social distancing is required for all passengers in waiting areas and a face mask must be worn at all times. The CAAT says food and beverage services will be available at the airport’s “sealed route” waiting area, but there will be “active oversight” on the services. Areas will also be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Passengers must present the proper documents including…

  • A fit-to-fly health certificate
  • Medical certificate declaring a negative Covid-19 result issued no more than 72 hours before departure
  • Travel health insurance that covers Covid-19 treatment expenses up to $100,000 USD

If demand increases, the airport will add Gates E5, E7 and E8 to the sealed route. If Concourse E is under maintenance, then Concourse F will be used under the same plan.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Thailand

Facebook removes “information-influencing” pages linked to Thai military

Maya Taylor

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Facebook removes “information-influencing” pages linked to Thai military | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook

Facebook has confirmed the removal of 185 accounts run by the Thai military and allegedly involved in information-influencing. The social media giant says the accounts were deleted for engaging in what it calls, “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. In total, 77 accounts, 72 pages, and 18 groups have been removed from the platform, in addition to 18 Instagram accounts. It’s the first time Facebook has taken such action against accounts linked to the Thai government.

The accounts were associated with the Thai military and were targeting people in the southern provinces, Facebook said its regular report on coordinated inauthentic behavior. The south of the country has been the scene of decades-long conflict, with insurgent groups in the majority-Muslim, Malay-speaking region calling for independence. To date, around 7,000 people have died in the ongoing struggle.

Facebook says the deleted accounts were most active last year and used both fake and real accounts to manage pages and groups, both openly military pages and pages that hid their links to the military. Some of the fake profiles pretended to be people from the southern provinces.

The report mentioned a post by the now-removed account named “comprehending the operation” in Thai. The page posted the logo for Amnesty International Thailand and wrote “The NGO never cares about ordinary citizens because they have no role in society. Normal people are not famous. Any case is not big news. They are not worth the investment of foreigners so they will not do anything to help. This is why we don’t see anything from the NGO.”

Facebook removes “information-influencing” pages linked to Thai military | News by The Thaiger

Image overlay translates to “The NGO never cares about ordinary citizens because they have no role nor money.”

On another now-removed account, named “truth about my home Pattani” in Thai, a post said “Muslim leader declares southern border is a peace zone. The southern separatists started a movement by spreading the idea that Thailand is under control by different believers so that people would come and fight for their religion. This was declared that the action clearly violates Islam faith.”

Facebook removes “information-influencing” pages linked to Thai military | News by The Thaiger

Image overlay translates to “Southern border is not Jihad zone.”

When contacted by Reuters, the military had no comment on the removal of the Facebook accounts, with a spokesman saying the organisation does not comment outside of official press conferences.

The head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook, Nathaniel Gleicher, has confirmed the reasons behind the platform’s decision.

“This is the first time that we’ve attributed one of our takedowns to links to the Thai military. We found clear links between this operation and the Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation.”

He adds that the accounts had spent around US$350 on advertising on both Facebook and Instagram. One or more of the pages had about 700,000 followers and at least one of the groups had 100,000 members. Gleicher says the accounts were removed because of their misleading behaviour and not because of the content being posted. The content included support for the military and the monarchy, with allegations of violence and criticism of insurgent groups in the south.

It’s not the first time accounts linked to the Thai military have been removed by a social media platform. In October, Twitter removed 926 accounts it says had links to the army and posted pro-military and pro-government content. The Thai army has denied any involvement with the accounts in question. In November, Twitter also suspended an account posting pro-monarchy content that was found to have links to the palace and to thousands of other accounts posting similar content.

To read the February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report, click HERE.

SOURCES: Reuters| Facebook

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