Conflict & Justice

Thailand's Islamic insurgents kill 4 in school attack


School-aged children guarded by Thai troops in Narathiwat province. Nearly 5,000 have died in an Islamic insurgency waged to restore a sultanate absorbed by Thailand (then Siam) around the dawn of the 20th century.



Just 10 days after a brazen attack on a border town known for its karaoke joints and brothels, Thailand's Islamic separatists have taken on equally high-profile target: a school filled with kids.

The rebels don't seem to have targeted children directly. According to various news reports, they appear to have to targeted soldiers, four of which died after insurgents opened fire while disguised as paramilitary rangers, according to the Associated Press.

The attack took place in the late morning, the Bangkok Post reports. A 6-year-old was seriously injured.

"By firing into an army base inside a school, insurgents knew they could also harm students and teachers," senior Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk wrote on Twitter. "Such brutality is sickening."

Insurgents attacking teachers is, at this point, unsurprising. The rebels have torched schools and ambushed teachers for years to rid their claimed territory of the government's influence. The violence has turned dozens of school campuses into mini-fortresses surrounded by razor wire and young conscripts with M-16s.

While reporting a four-part series on the insurgency several months back, I visited a school in the same district that suffered today's attack. The campus was patrolled by at least a dozen troops and staffed by paranoid teachers. 

“I don’t pressure the teachers to carry guns,” said the principal, who totes a Glock 9 millimeter. Still, he said, about 30 percent of his teachers bring handguns to school. 

Still, a full-on armed assault against soldiers guarding a school is not the norm.

It is highly provocative, even for an insurgency that has left nearly 5,000 dead, and could easily lead to heavy-handed retribution from the Thai military.

Our four-part series on the insurgency -- with video -- is available here.