A highly respected imam who repeatedly spoke out against violence was murdered in front of his wife and many other people in Pattani Town on Monday (August 5th) afternoon. His assassination is believed to have been the work of insurgents.
Yakob Raimanee, a 49-year-old cleric at Pattani Central Mosque, was shopping for food with his wife at the crowded Jabang Teekor market in Pattani Town when four assailants on two motorbikes approached and shot him twice at close range. He sustained one fatal gunshot wound at the back of the neck, killing him instantly.
A second bullet hit his left hand.
The attack, which came just days before the end of the holy month of Ramadan, sent shock waves through the entire Thai Muslim community. Some 3,000 people attended a somber prayer service that evening to pay their final respects to Imam Yakob, one of Thailand's most outspoken critics of violence in the troubled region and a well-known radio personality whose message of peace had been broadcast across the country.
The killing comes despite an agreement between Thailand and separatist militants to try to avoid bloodshed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week. The truce deal was the first concrete achievement to come out of ongoing peace talks between the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), one of the main rebel groups.
But after a period of relative calm as Ramadan got under way, the violence resumed in late July. A spree of bomb and gun attacks left nine people dead, including teachers and security personnel, while arsonists set fire to local businesses in an apparent bid to disrupt the Deep South economy.
A fervent advocate for Islam and peace
Imam Yakob was a vocal supporter of the peace dialogue, and his killing has raised new concerns about the future of the talks, according to AFP.
"I can say that this incident is worrying," the news agency quoted National Security Council chief and lead peace negotiator Paradorn Pattanatabut as saying. "The imam was one of those supporting the talks... he was killed, so we are concerned."
He vowed, however, that the talks will continue.
"They are trying to frighten people -- so we have to be patient and strong," he told AFP.
Imam Yakob, who served as liaison with high-ranking members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during their visits to the region, had been targeted by the insurgents before.
In October 2011, he survived a shooting attempt on his life in which one bullet narrowly grazed his head, but left him uninjured.
"These criminals will shoot anyone," he said after escaping with his life. "Clerics, teachers, everyone is at risk. They have already shot many an Imam," he said.
Police have released CCTV images of his assailants and say the weapons used in the attacks matched those in previous deadly shooting attacks in the region.
Special security measures were in place for his protection, but he nevertheless decided to go to the market with just his wife to buy food for the evening meal.
Ramadan is time for reflection, not violence
Meanwhile, other Muslim leaders in the region continue to denounce the use of violence.
"As for why these violent attacks continue to take place in the three southernmost provinces during Laylat al Qadr, I really do not understand," Imam Muhammad Sanman, head of the Imam Council in Yi-ngor District, said after an August 3rd bomb attack in Narathiwat. "According to Islam, the last 10 days of Ramadan are a time for reading the Qur'an, prayer, focusing one's spiritual state and doing good deeds while strictly refraining from any and all vice.
"Those who do wrong will have to face punishment from the Almighty for their acts. I don't know who is responsible, but I believe if they were true Muslims they would never intentionally harm others, and most certainly not during Ramadan," Imam Muhammad said.
Amree Sama-air, a resident of Rangae who works driving students to school in a modified pickup truck, expressed his dismay about the continuing violence that has marred the Ramadan truce.
"These incidents are truly frightening," he told Khabar. "I don't know what kind of agreement the government made with the BRN. At the start of Ramadan the number of incidents seemed to be decreasing, but now they have become so frequent that I am afraid to be a driver, because I have no way of knowing how those responsible choose their target groups."
"I believe that if we can't even get a reduction during Ramadan with a temporary truce in place, then it will not get any easier in successive months. This is not an easy problem to solve; the underlying issues involved are very deeply entrenched," he said.