Terror threat spurs security alert
US consulate in Chiang Mai under close watch
- Published: 12/02/2013 at 04:22 PM
- Online news:
The government has ordered that security be beefed up for the US consulate in Chiang Mai following intelligence reports of a potential terrorist attack.
Diplomats and senior officials of nations involved in the 32nd annual Cobra Gold war games kicked off the exercise at a ceremony in Chiang Mai last week. (Photo provided by US Embassy)
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung says he has received information that al-Qaeda and Salafist terrorists had planned to launch a three-pronged attack on the US consulate in an operation codenamed "Billiard Ball" in the first half of February.
The terrorists, based in Algeria, would be equipped with small arms, grenade launchers and C-4 explosives provided by drug traders who are unhappy with the Chiang Mai consulate's role in drug suppression in the region, he said.
There never has been any such alliance reported in the past.
The US Embassy and Chiang Mai consulate made no unexpected changes to their normal hours or security on Tuesday. There were no plans to close the consulate, diplomats said.
There also was no elevated security level, or notice to US citizens in Thailand - steps that normally take place in case US officials believe there is a threat to any US interests.
Walter Braunohler, US embassy spokesman in Bangkok, said he could not comment on security matters but added that the US consulate in Chiang Mai is open as usual and will take any necessary precautions.
He also thanked the Thai government for its support and cooperation.
Mr Chalerm said latest intelligence reports revealed some members of the terrorist groups had now left Thailand.
It would be difficult for the terrorists to carry out the attacks now that security has been tightened, he said.
Mr Chalerm dismissed any links between these terrorists and insurgents in the far South.
He said he ordered Pol Lt Gen Suthep Dejraksa, the Region 5 Provincial Police chief, to beef up security at the consulate from last Wednesday.
This matter would not affect tourism in Chiang Mai and had nothing to do with the prime minister's scheduled visit to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai from today until Friday, Mr Chalerm said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday that she had been briefed on the intelligence reports about the threat and had ordered police to step up security at the consulate.
She said the US embassy had not made any special security requests.
Police armed with HK33 rifles from the provincial police headquarters are reportedly on 24-hour security duty at the consulate.
A checkpoint has been set up in front of the consulate and no vehicles are allowed to park on the road in front of the consulate.
The Cobra Gold joint military exercise, involving troops from several countries including the US, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand, is now being held in Chiang Mai. It began last Monday and last until next Thursday.
A security source said that members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), members of a Salafist brigade and al-Qaeda terrorists had sneaked into the country to monitor the US consulate last year.
At least 26 Salafist terrorists were expected to take part in the attack on the US consulate, the source said.
Salafists, often referred to as "ultra-conservative Muslims," adhere to a belief in re-establishing a Muslim caliphate worldwide. The term is most commonly connect with the Saudi Arabian Wahabi sect.
Another source said police and soldiers in Chiang Mai are tracking down 15 people believed to be members of the Salafist group.
They are identified as Umar Al Khatib, who leads the operation, Burhanidin Jabir (of Eritrean nationality), Taib Kamal (Algerian), Abdalhadi al Tahir (Ethiopian), Yahya Aboulrazak Hamza (Syrian), Abdallah Al Kamil (Syrian), Abdal Baribelhaj (Algerian), Marwan Al Khatib and Umar Shihab (Yemeni), Khalil Al Qwaydir (Jordanian), Abdallah (Palestinian), Abdal Aziz Al Jalai (Sudanese), Harith Yusif (Afghan), Najmudin (Afghan) and Abdal Hakim (Somali).
Pol Lt Gen Suthep said the Provincial Police Region 5 had received information about the 15 suspected terrorists from the Special Branch Police.
Chiang Mai governor Thanin Suphasaen said security agencies are checking hotels to comb through the identities of their guests to see if any of them are suspects, while tight security is being enforced at spots where foreign visitors gather.
Meanwhile, Phuket provincial police chief Pol Maj Gen Chote Chawalwiwat said the island province, popular with foreigners, has also gone on the alert following the reports of possible terrorist attacks in Chiang Mai.
Locals and business operators have been asked to keep an eye out for any suspicious people or movements, with security beefed up at Phuket international airport and other checkpoints.
By Online Reporters
Police have stepped up security at the United States consulate in Chiang Mai city, acting on information that Al-Qaeda and Salafist terrorists plan to attack it in the first half of February.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said after the cabinet meeting in Bangkok on Tuesday she had been briefed on the information and ordered police to step up security at the US consulate in the North, although the US embassy had not made any special request.
However, the US Chiang Mai consulate's web page has posted the following notice for US citizens in Thailand:
"On Tuesday morning, February 12, 2013, and Thursday morning, February 14, the US Citizen Services Section is not scheduling appointments for routine US Citizen Services. However, any US Citizen with an urgent matter should notify the guard for entry, or return between 1:30 and 3:30 on those days."
Police from the provincial police headquarters armed with HK33 rifles were reported to be on security duty at the consulate around the clock in shifts of seven members each.
United States consulate in Chiang Mai city. (Photo by Chewin Sattha)
A checkpoint has been set up in front of the consulate. No parking of any vehicles is allowed on the road in front of the consulate.
Pol Col Aksorn Wongyai, the Chiang Mai police chief, said he had not been told of any specific threat being made.
The only special event taking place is the 32nd Cobra Gold military exercise, involving more than 13,000 troops from the US, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines from Feb 11 to 21.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said according to information reaching the government, al-Qaeda and Salafist terrorists planned to launch a three-pronged attack on the US consulate in Chiang Mai in an operation codenamed "Billiard Ball".
The terrorists would be equipped with small arms, grenade launchers and C-4 charges provided by drug traders based in Australia who were unhappy with the role the US consulate in Chiang Mai played in drug suppression in the region, Mr Chalerm added.
"We heard of the plot on Wednesday (Feb 6) and ordered police to increase security at the consulate," said the deputy premier, who oversees national security.
He said he ordered Pol Lt Gen Suthep Dejraksa, the Region 5 Provincial Police chief, to beef up security at the consulate from Feb 6.
He said this matter would not affect Ms Yingluck's scheduled visit Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces during Feb 13 to 15.
Thai-US Cobra Gold 2012 military exercise. (File Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
"We don't know if the threat had something to do with Cobra Gold or not," Mr Chalerm said.
According to a police intelligence report, members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) - a network of Al-Qaeda and Salafist terrorist groups - have been visiting Chiang Mai since last year scouting the area around the US consulate general in Chiang Mai.
According to the intelligence report, 26 terrorists were expected to take part in the "Billiard Ball" operation and the attack would likely be similar to the suicide bombings, or Jihad, in Syria, the report said.
Chiang Mai Governor Thanin Supasaen said he had instructed all provincial district chiefs to closely monitor the situation, provide security for foreign tourists and keep a close eye out for people acting suspiciously.
The US embassy in Bangkok refused to comment on the alleged security threat.
"What I can say is that the consulate general in Chiang Mai is open for business as usual," spokeswoman Kristin Kneedler said.
Thailand is the US's closest ally in Southeast Asia, with well-established security ties dating back to the Vietnam War.
Thailand has cooperated with the US in anti-terrorist operations.
In August 2003, a joint operation netted terrorist suspect Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, in Ayutthaya.
The government allowed the Indonesian national suspected of links with al-Qaeda and believed to be a mastermind behind the Bali bombing of 2002 to be deported to the US detention centre in Guantanamo, where he remains.
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