The police accuse Suttirak of being one of the gunmen who fired machineguns into the mosque on the evening of June 8, killing 11 people and injuring more than ten others. The 12th victim has died in hospital. The victims were in the middle of evening prayers.
Commissioner of the Southern Border Provinces Police Bureau, Pol Lt General Peera Poompichet, said more warrants would be issued soon and added that authorities are committed to ensuring justice for all the victims in this case. Narathiwat police chief Pol Maj General Surachai Suebsuk said the number of suspects should be about ten in all.
Surachai said the gunmen at the Al-Furqan mosque might have used the same weapons that were fired on a group of Muslim villagers at a teashop in Rangae district on November 17 last year. Besides linking him to various attacks, the police are suggesting Suttirak may have been involved in drugs and other illicit business activities.
Needless to say, the massacre has driven a bigger wedge between the Malay-speaking community and the Thai State. This has been aggravated by the sloppy manner in which the case has been handled. From the start, no one believed the massacre at Al-Furqan was the work of Islamic insurgents, as suggested by top government officials.
What turned off the local community was the knee-jerk reaction from both Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Army chief General Anupong Paochinda that the authorities were not involved, when no investigation whatsoever had been conducted.
But as time passed and pressure mounted on the government to come clean, it was discovered the gunmen were Thai Buddhists. Some of the suspects were members of the Aor Ror Bor, or the Township Defence Volunteers, a network of government-trained militia organisations whose members are exclusively Buddhists.
The strategy now, it seems, is for the authorities to distance themselves as much as possible from these suspects, as more names will be made public in the coming days.
Like the April 2007 shooting incident in Narathiwat's Bang Lang Dam district - when similar, government-trained village militias fired into a group of Muslim funeral-goers, killing four and injuring six others - the Army initially tried to blame the mosque incident on insurgents. And when that didn't work, they tried to justify the attack by saying the Malay Muslims were armed with sticks and stones. Never mind that a unit of Border Patrol Police was just metres away from the scene of the 2007 clash, which started off with verbal abuse but ended in the death of the funeral mourners.
Authorities have not taken any action against the suspects and the incidents, like other similar cases, will probably fade from people's memories. They say that time heals all wounds. But for the Malays in the deep South, the opposite appears to be the truth. This is because such injustices are fed into the historical narrative that questions the legitimacy of the Thai State in the Malay historical homeland. In other words, it helps them justify the armed insurgency against the state and reinforces the notion that the deep South is an occupied territory.
If anything, incidents such as the Bang Lang Dam shooting and the Al-Furqan massacre reveal a deep-seated problem of outsourcing security work to local civilians who have little consideration for the political consequences when they decide to fire indiscriminately into a mosque or a teashop full of people. It also raises the question of training and motivation techniques for the village militias - like showing video footage of innocent Buddhist civilians and monks, to motivate them to sign up for jobs as village scouts or defence volunteers. This is the kind of thing that international terrorists do in the course of indoctrination and recruitment processes.
Senior security officials in the South say that relations between the authorities and the local Malay Muslim residents are at a low point, and any effort to get things back on track will depend heavily on how the authorities handle the investigation into the massacre at the mosque.