Bombing Part 2
By Yoichi Shimatsu
The Thai police department, which is now starting to investigate foreign links to the Erawan shrine bombing, has sought help from the Turkish Embassy on possible involvement of the ultranationalist Grey Wolves. In the three weeks before the bombing, however, only 20 citizens of Turkey entered Thailand. Unfortunately, nothing can be that easy, especially in the case of the Grey Wolves since many thousands of their members are nationals from a patchwork of countries across Central Asia, in Europe and in Japan.
Turan, “the land of darkness”, stretches from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. This broad band of Turkic-language speakers is lodged between the sub-Arctic Russian-Siberian linguistic belt and the Farsi-Dari tract from Iran through to Afghanistan. Centers for Gray Wolves activism include Hungary, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia to a lesser degree and as far as Korea and Japan, where many Turks are intermarried with locals. Japanese is a sub-branch of the Turko-Altaic mother tongue, which is why ethnocentric Prime Minister Shinzo Abe avidly aids Uyghur nationalists and is providing a nuclear power plant to Turkey.
Since checking entry visas for so many countries is tedious work, best left to the the Thai immigration authority, here I focus on another time-proven method of investigation: the gumshoe approach, which means hoofing it through the maze that is Bangkok.
In the first report, I mistakenly identified Silom 9 as being in the Nana district, an area where I was tipped off that the Bangkok police were conducting sweeps of the Muslim tourist district in search of Uyghurs. Dazed and confused and in a hurry to churn out an article, it was a dyslexic slip. The police dragnet was in Sukhumvit 3,5 and 7, near the same spot where a dummy pipe bomb was placed under the Skytrain line resulting in a drama that I witnessed. That mental error was somehow fortuitous, putting me at the scene of a bomb threat.
To Walk the Walk
Returning to the scene of the crime after a few days of much-needed rest, I traced the escape route of the prime suspect, the foreigner in a yellow T-shirt, estimated to be just under 6-feet in height (180-plus centimeters). Just minutes before the blast, “Yellow Bird” rushed past the Hyatt and up Rachadamri Road and hailed a tuk-tuk motorcycle cab, which conveyed him beneath the Sukhumvit Skytrain track southward to Silom Road, which is best known for the garish Patpong nightlife area.
Urban warriors of the past need not be reminded that Rachadamri was the campsite for the huge Red Shirt rallies of 2010, which culminated in the gunshot deaths of 90 unarmed protesters and the subsequent burning down of the Siam commercial district. The tuk-tuk went past Bangkok Bank headquarters and crossed over Klong Chong Nonsi canal, at the intersection where the Skytrain veers off toward the left. A short block past the narrow canal, Yellow Bird ordered the drive to let him off and he walked up Silom Soi 9.
The police, the news media and even the renowned investigative blogger “CSI LA” are clueless as to why the foreign suspect went up Silom Soi 9 - to return to his residence, to meet the mastermind behind the bombing or to board another vehicle to complete his escape.
In a universe of infinite possibilities, any given spot on Planet Earth has pathetically few options and Silom 9 fewer than most because it runs through the middle of the old Chinese cemetery. Although a graveyard tends to be quiet, Soi 9 is assailed by noise and traffic at the time of his jog, about a quarter to 7 in the evening, rush hour. There, by the headstones and funereal vaults, massive construction of residential towers is happening along the margins of the cemetery and at the end of the lane. One wonders if this murderous drama has anything to do with disturbing angry ghosts.
Aside from its bad feng shui, Yellow Bird could not have proceeded past the bottleneck where Soi 9 narrows into a single lane, because he would have been spotted by guards and laborers working for the Bouygues-Thai construction company, along with dozens of street vendors serving up barbecued pig intestines and fish balls to the hungry blue-collar workers. That bent lane ends at the Chong Nonsi BTS (Skytrain) station, which is bristling with security cameras. He obviously had cased the area, but unfortunately most security video is erased after a week or so.
Therefore, Yellow Bird must have turned to the right along a nondescript street that runs past the rundown Niagara Hotel. In recent years, the no-name street, which meets Sathorn Soi 12 (called Wittaya on maps) has gone upscale with new overflow housing for bank personnel from the Sathorn financial district and foreign gays put off by the crassness of the Patpong 2 “go-go boy” bars.
Decision time for this bloodhound: Did the suspect veer toward Sathorn? Presumably not because that would put him straight into the vast St. Louis Hospital complex, and Yellow Bird could not have been a patient, even though that is the perfect alibi.
Where could he have disappeared to? I detected at a turn in the road a sliver of shadow between two huge panels of sheet metal. It led into the narrowest of walkways. Yellow Bird probably was not fearful of security cameras down at the blind corner, since they are so conspicuous as to be decoys left by absentee villa owners and not functioning recorders. The path led to Silom 11 and that lane back to Silom Road. In short, his getting off at Soi 9 was a ruse in case he was being pursued. His destination was just a block up from where he was left off, at the crosswalk outside the Furama Hotel Silom.
The Furama hotel group, now owned by a Singaporean operator, has changed ownership several times since its founding by an Indonesian tycoon but it is still renowned for its Balinese cuisine and therefore remains favored by Indonesian business executives.
This hotel would be the liaison point for a lieutenant sent by the mysterious Indonesian businessman Chep Harnawan, 63, who is believed to be the financier behind the jihadist recruitment operation based on the island of Sulawesi. Set up by the now-imprisoned militant Abu Wardah Santoso, this sophisticated human-resource operation sends trained fighters and suicide bombers from Muslim parts of Asia to ISIS, al Nusra, al Qaeda and other militant outfits in the Middle East and Africa. As disclosed in a Jakarta court conviction in mid-July, the recruits include Uyghurs named Ahmet Mahmut, Altinci Bayram and Tuzer Abdul Basit, who are serving prison terms for carrying forged Turkish passports for passage via Turkey into Syria to join ISIS.
There are several reasons why Harnawan and his associates cannot be arrested, including:
- not being directly involved in paramilitary operations or terrorist attacks;
- not leaving a paper trail at banks by doing their business through cash exchanges;
- compartmentalizing their human trafficking and weapons training between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and non-Asian countries; and
- having a political base of nationalist Muslim support in the sectarian clash with Christians, seen as stay-behind agents of Dutch colonialism, in Sulawesi and Ambon.
In short, the logistics business behind jihadism is no different than how the U.S. Army gets its cannon fodder, through promises of career futures, endorsements from military and police veterans, and support from well-connected patriots and religious pastors. As a commercial enterprise, supplying soldiers can be highly profitable, considering the huge sums for the jihad donated by the Gulf States and private citizens in the Arab world.
Key to the Gates
Indonesian fighters, as any Southeast Asian will affirm, have legendary toughness and are known to be fearless. The dangerous pirates from Bugis, a region of Sulawesi, are considered to be the original bogeymen (although the European term precedes them).
If Indonesians are so esteemed as fighters, why then are Uyghurs so important to the jihadist manpower project? As one security expert has put it: The Uyghurs are “the golden key to the Turkish gates.” In order to move a group of Southeast Asian fighters through Turkey into western Syria, a trafficker must have a steady supply of Uyghurs to leave at the Turkish toll booth.
The Turks, especially the Grey Wolves and their political arm called the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are eager to establish a large militant force of their Turkic brethren for the long-term project of regrouping the mythic Turanian Empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late-1980s enabled the Grey Wolves to open training camps right up to the borders of Xinjiang Province, or in their parlance, East Turkestan.
Today, their grand design is being challenged by the ISIS counter-proposal for an Islamist Caliphate across this same swath of Central Asia. The “friendly rivalry” will probably impact the politics of Turkey, where the Islamist governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has lost its majority and is likely seeking a coalition or some terms of cooperation with the ultra-nationalist MHP and its young wolves. The rebuttal to Europeanization or power-sharing with the Kurds is militant nationalist expansionism. The only thing that stands in the way of Turkic imperialism is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), including Iran, meaning the world will never be a boring place.
From Knives to Bombs
Out of this strategic priority, Uyghur militants have been quietly encouraged to stop the knife attacks inside China, which are resulting in significant losses in strength due to police gunfire and arrests. As a more efficient alternative, bombings followed by a getaway can inflict greater casualties while conserving forces for bigger and better campaigns of ruthless violence.
In this perspective the Erawan bombing was a warning to the governments of Southeast Asia to stop interfering with the jihadist recruitment network, especially with valuable Uyghur migrants. If jihadists are not permitted to transit out of this region to the Middle East or back into China, then the war will come home to Southeast Asia. That is still a threat and not yet a promise. As for U.S. “anti-terrorism” policy, Washington is at cross purposes with itself, being an ardent support of violent Uyghur nationalism while also an erratic opponent, and more often promoter, of jihadist terrorism. The “trustworthiness” of American policy was demonstrated in Benghazi, before that in the Arab Spring, and earlier in Afghanistan, ad nauseum back to 911. Washington is its own worst enemy, and is, unfortunately, creating problems for its allies like Thailand.
Now back to those hard realities in Bangkok, where Yellow Bird and his Indonesian minder were crossing Silom Road with an elated but nervous sense of mission accomplished. They entered a bizarre zone familiar to me because back in the year 2004, I established a temporary office near there for seminars on combating avian influenza or bird flu for Thailand’s science ministry, the Thai food agency and CP, the world’s largest poultry producer. Our Hong Kong-based team’s strategy to filter rather than chlorinate the water supply for poultry proved successful within the span of a year. By contrast, stopping terrorism is not as easy.
Together with my associates in search of a mutton kebab, I would sometimes stroll down what we called “Soi Kabul”, an alley densely inhabited in those days with young toughs who were tussling on two fronts: versus the Thai police’s War on Drugs, and against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. (I hope not to encourage terrorism tourism and urge visitors to avoid the place and leave the residents in peace.)
A decade ago, these streets of the inner city, especially after the 2 a.m. curfew, were a war zone. An estimated 2,500 “bike-bin” delivery boys, most of them Muslim, were summarily gunned down over a 6-month period without even the courtesy of a warrant. The methamphetamine-trafficking route was a transcontinental highway from the rogue United Wa State across the Burmese border into Thailand and on to Bangkok, and then past the Mekong into Muslim Mongol territory in southern China up to the Ningxia mafia’s turf in Xian and Lanzhou. Like a giant poisonous snake assailed by a family of mongooses, the drug ring was finally pursued, dissected and pummeled by several national police task forces, while a chorus of human-rights groups funded by George Soros complained about cruelty to drug lords and their gangs.
Since nobody here trusts the cops since even before those terrible days, Soi Kabul is still a safe place for discussing urgent business in private, including Yellow Bird’s career move to anywhere outside of Thailand. The local community descends from the “Dutch tradition” Muslims, aka Indonesians, many of them who came to Thailand as servants in the employ of wealthy British merchants (the British Club is nearby). The spirit of the bogeyman protects secrets here, which is why and how our prime suspect flew the coop.
What happened to Yellow Bird’s “students”, the Asian and likely Uyghur proteges who attended the Erawan bombing for a live-test training session in how to maximize damage to a soft target? Well, that remains uncertain because they fled undetected with the fleeing bystanders in the perpendicular direction up Sukhumvit Road toward Nana. Several of these trainees were probably taking their notes on the Skywalk overlooking the shrine.
Israeli Spies on Rajdamri Road
One other disturbing fact screams out in the events leading up to the Erawan bombing. On May 8, a Thai Army team seized and detained nine Israeli Defense Force soldiers at the Bangkok Police Headquarters for “installing a telephone monitoring system.” The police headquarters complex is just across Rachadamri Road from Erawan shrine. Were the Israelis involved in preparing for the Erawan attack in cooperation with their top regional ally, Turkey’s security service, which funds the Grey Wolves? Considering their joint cooperation in providing logistical support to ISIS, the possibility that the foreign attacker may have been a dual agent of Mossad and the Turkish MIT intelligence service should not be discounted.
The Frustrations of Counter-Terrorism
For all their imperial might, the Dutch and British colonialists were eventually ousted by the Muslim subjects, and the Pentagon and CIA have not fared any better than the Thai police in this perplexing investigation. There is no cause for regret or disappointment for Thailand law enforcement and security services, since failure comes with the terrain. This is classic guerrilla warfare doctrine with the advantage always going to the unexpected focused attack rather than to the spread-thin defense. At this point, still well short of a full-blown insurgency, the crime promises to pass unsolved into the history books.
The only act left for the rest of us would be to appeal to our Islamic neighbors to respect their own teachings about kindness and not doing harm, and for us to do the same toward them. Relationships have been broken by both sides and need to be knitted together again somehow. The killing of innocents must end, and peace with justice should be our common goal. Since no remedy is forthcoming for the hurt to the wounded and loss of the dead at Erawan shrine, all that can be expected and given is to repay cruelty with forgiveness.
Yoichi Shimatsu is a science writer and forensic analyst based in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
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