Thursday, 20 March 2008

U.S. warns travelers after Thailand mosque attack

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. State Department urged Americans on Tuesday to postpone travel plans to restive southern Thailand following a weekend attack on a hotel that was popular with foreigners.

The warning coincided with a grenade attack Tuesday at a mosque in southern Yala province, which wounded two caretakers.

The recent spate of violence appears to have shifted to public places where tourists might congregate, the U.S. statement said.

"Although the extremist groups focus primarily on Thai government interests in the southern provinces, some of the recent violence in the area has targeted public places, including areas where tourists may congregate," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

On Saturday evening, a powerful car bomb went off at the C.S. Pattani hotel in Pattani province, killing two people and wounding 14. The hotel has long been used as a base for visiting journalists, foreigners and government officials.

Drive-by shootings and bombings occur almost daily in Thailand's southern Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, the only Muslim-majority areas of the Buddhist country. The region, which borders Malaysia, has been gripped by a Muslim insurgency that has claimed more than 2,900 lives since 2004.

In the latest attack on Tuesday, attackers hurled a hand grenade at a mosque in Yala city just after several dozen worshippers had cleared out from morning prayers.

Police were searching for at least two men who parked a pickup truck in front of the mosque and then threw a grenade onto the building's roof, which rolled down and exploded near the entrance, said police Col. Pitsawut Sanguansombatsiri, one of the investigating officers.

Authorities blamed the attack on suspected Muslim insurgents, who are routinely accused of carrying out attacks on Muslims as part of a strategy to intensify anger over the bloodshed and push more Muslims to join the insurgency. Muslims and Buddhists who work for the government are viewed as collaborators and are regularly targeted by insurgents.

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