SONGKLA – At least two groups of more than 330 foreign Muslims trafficked through Thailand were on their way to be trained abroad as terrorists to fight against China, the authorities from three countries now believe.
Thai police suspect the illegal Muslim immigrants discovered earlier this month were using Thailand and Malaysia as transit points to travel to Turkey, where they allegedly would be trained to carry out terrorist plots, the Bangkok Post reported.
Those in the first group were arrested late last year and detained in Bangkok’s Suan Phlu immigration office, while the second group were recently arrested in Songkhla — 219 at a rubber plantation on March 12 and 77 near a local school in Sadao district on March 20.
It remained unclear what nationalities the immigrants hold, though Chinese authorities have identified 30 people of the group of 112 as ethnic-Uighur Muslims from the far western region of Xinjiang, which is viewed by Beijing as a hotbed of separatist terrorism movement.
The group of Muslim immigrants arrested at the rubber plantation, however, claimed to have come from Turkey.
After an initial investigation, the authorities believe the groups of 219 and 112 were part of a bigger group, said Thailand’s Immigration Bureau chief Panu Kerdlarppol.
Lt Gen Panu previously refused to provide specifics about their nationalities, saying the information may affect international relations.
Beijing claims the Muslim immigrants are Chinese and looks set to take them back, while Turkish officials have also expressed willingness to help the group return to Turkey.
The Immigration Bureau and information obtained from Chinese and Thai authorities indicate the groups are likely to be Muslims from China.
Many Uighur Muslims resent what they see as restrictions on their culture and religion by Chinese authorities and complain they are denied economic opportunities amid an influx of ethnic-Han Chinese into Xinjiang.
The same police source quoted Chinese police officers as saying some of the migrant Muslims wanted to travel to Turkey allegedly to be trained to use weapons. They would then use the knowledge, upon returning to China, to support separatist movements and launch terrorist attacks.
The Chinese police also claimed some of the group leaders allegedly worked with the Turkish government and helped Uighur Muslims leave China illegally, the source said.
These Muslims spent 14 days traveling from Xinjiang to the Thai border. After they met in Kunming in southern China, they were divided into four groups to enter Thailand through Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, before crossing the Gulf of Thailand to Songkhla province, said a source at the Immigration Bureau.
An initial investigation found evidence that indicated the arrested Muslim immigrants might have come from China, though they claimed that they are Turkish.
However, officers who checked their belongings found many items including bus tickets, refresher towels and other personal items with Chinese words on them.
“Immigration police are not stupid,” the source said, adding the officers know what they are up to.
This group planned to travel to the Malaysian capital where they would be given Turkish passports.
However, the suspects’ trip to Turkey was cut short in Thailand after their arrest. Agencies