BANGKOK: The emergence of a mysterious death squad that has killed both anti-government protesters and law enforcement personnel has baffled authorities and complicated the already worsened political crisis in the Thai capital Bangkok.
Both the caretaker government headed by lame-duck Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and protesters’ leader and former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban have categorically dissociated themselves from the squad.
Members of the unknown squad were clad in black or camouflaged outfits and armed themselves with weapons ranging from assault rifles, M79 grenade launchers, handguns and hand grenades to tear gas.
They moved in and out of the scenes in rapid, well-planned fashion and carried out their clandestine operations, leaving behind fallen victims.
According to colonel Kamtorn Ouicharoen of a police unit called the Explosive Ordnance Disposal, the mysterious squad appeared to have been well-trained in close-combat scenarios and the use of weapons such as M67 grenade which was hurled at policemen during a tense stand-off near Panfa Bridge on Tuesday.
A member of the unknown squad apparently had mingled with the crowd shortly before he slipped off to the perimeters of the scene and tossed the grenade toward the policemen who had tried in vain to clear and secure the outer part of Rajdamnern Avenue of occupying protesters.
The blast seriously injured a dozen policemen, including the one who literally kicked the grenade a few meters away to avert fatalities among his colleagues. The safety clip of the bomb could not be found in the scene of the attack, the police colonel said.
He confirmed that the Thai police and military have that type of hand grenades in their respective arsenals.
The unknown squad also fired gunshots and tear gas at the policemen who were finally forced to retreat from the scene.
A policeman was killed with a gunshot wound in the chest and another was seriously injured in the head while four civilians were killed during the clash in the bridge area.
Last month, an RGD-5 grenade was also hurled at protesters marching in a loose procession in Bantattong area near Patumwan intersection which has been a hub of the anti-government demonstrators. The blast killed one person and seriously injured a dozen others.
A few days later, a similar grenade was hurled at a makeshift platform where protest leaders delivered their speeches at Victory Monument, injuring several people, including a reporter.
These incidents have been videotaped and authorities are now trying to identify the attackers and find out who is behind them.
According to Police Maj. Gen. Kacha Thatusat, commander of the Chon Buri Provincial Police in charge of securing the scene where the attack occurred, the squad indiscriminately fired at protesters and policemen.
“Gunfire aimed at policemen came from the crowd. The gunshot that hit a police officer in the head came from a high spot,” Kacha said, adding that unknown squad moved in and out of the scene in a well-planned manner.
“Obviously, they have been trained for this mission and could possibly have a back-up squad,” he said.
Kacha said he had an idea who the members of this mysterious squad are but declined to elaborate. He has, however, expressed his frustration over the orders from the government’s Center for Maintaining of Peace and Order for the police to never use force against the protesters only to have his men killed or injured.
Department of Special Investigation Director General Tarit Pengdit said that the protesters had obviously allowed members of the mysterious squad to mingle with the crowd at the height of tension when they were confronting policemen in the streets.
In an earlier instance, a few military officers were arrested at a police checkpoint near Government House with guns hidden in a pickup truck with fake registration plate.
While the soldiers and their superior officer categorically denied that they had been hired as guards for the protesters, the police seriously doubted that.
National Security Council Secretary General Paradorn Pattanatabut said that authorities are worried that a “third force” could have entered the melee to trigger further bloodshed and then point the finger at the caretaker government.
Some observers said that the entry of the mysterious armed squad is not without precedent in the Thai history of political unrests.
Four years ago, a mysterious group called “men in black” threw grenades at army soldiers, killing a colonel and seriously wounding a division commander and dozens more troops and protesters near Democracy Monument.
The members of the mysterious squad swiftly left the scene after the attack and disappeared in the dark.
The incident, which occurred at the height of Red Shirt protests, triggered the massive Army crackdown on the protesters leaving nearly 100 people dead and about 2,000 others injured in Rajprasong and nearby areas. PNA