THE US has warned of a terrorist threat against foreign tourists in Thailand, which said it was tracking two suspects who had entered the kingdom.
“Foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future,” the US embassy in Bangkok said today in an emergency message posted on its website.
“US citizens are urged to exercise caution when visiting public areas where large groups of Western tourists gather in Bangkok.”
US ambassador Kristie Kenney wrote on the Twitter social media website that the threat was “credible” and specific to Bangkok.
The Thai government said that it had been informed by the United States that a pair of suspected Muslim “terrorists” had arrived in the kingdom.
“The US contacted us last night about two terrorists who entered Thailand and plan terrorist activities,” Thai Defence Minister General Yutthasak Sasiprapha told AFP.
“Our intelligence officials are working closely with the US and following the terrorists’ movements closely. I believe we will arrest them tonight.
“For Thai citizens, there is no need to announce any warning because it will cause panic and will affect our tourism.”
Thailand’s tourist-friendly image was badly dented last year by devastating flooding across much of the country, as well as rounds of rival political protests in recent years.
In 2008 a nine-day blockade by “Yellow Shirt” protesters stranded tens of thousands of travellers, and the industry was badly hit again in 2010 during “Red Shirt” street demonstrations.
Bangkok’s central shopping area was reduced to a battle zone during an army crackdown on the rallies, and more than 90 people were left dead.
An eight-year-old shadowy insurgency continues to plague the country’s Muslim-majority deep south, but the rebels have never been known to attack outside of the region.
The insurgents are not thought to be part of a global jihad movement but rather are rebelling against a long history of perceived discrimination against ethnic Malay Muslims by governments in the Buddhist-majority country.
In the most prominent terrorist attack in Southeast Asia in recent history, 202 people – most of them foreign tourists – were killed in 2002 by bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali.
In August 2003, alleged mastermind Riduan Isamuddin, an Indonesian known as Hambali, was arrested in Thailand.
He was suspected of being Al-Qaeda’s representative in Southeast Asia and operational chief of Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.