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MW Weekly: Car Bombings Target Russian-Appointed Officials; Troubles in Thailand's Deep South; Islamic State Encourages IED Building; Gang Violence Surges in Haiti
Summer of Assassinations and Attempts on Kremlin Allies in Russia and Ukraine
There have been a string of assassinations and attempted assassinations of Russian officials and in one case the daughter of an influential nationalist Russian philosopher, both inside of Russia as well as in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.
On August 20th, the daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, Darya Dugina, was killed by a bomb under the seat of the automobile she was driving on her way home from a nationalist youth event just outside of Moscow. Apparently, Aleksandr had originally intended to drive this vehicle but switched vehicles at the last moment. Most believe Aleksandr was the intended target, but there is speculation to the contrary. Dugin has incorrectly been called Vladimir Putin’s “brain” and “spiritual guide” by western media outlets, when in fact he has been critical of Putin. The Russian President did however offer his condolences, calling Dugina’s killing a “vile crime”
Four days after the Dugina assassination, Ivan Sushko, Moscow’s appointed mayor to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mykhaylivka, was killed in a similar car bomb on August 24th, also hidden under his seat. A Russian-appointed official in occupied Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia, Vladimir Rogov, claimed Sushko died from his injuries in the hospital. Rogov, who is very active on social media, posted last month about an unsuccessful rifle attack on the home of the Russian-appointed leader of occupied Melitopol, which came on the same day as the fatal car bombing of another Russian official in occupied Ukraine, July 11th.
The assassinations and attempts have been occurring at a steady pace throughout the summer. On June 24th, a Russian-appointed official in occupied Kherson was killed by yet another car bomb. Another Russian-appointed mayor was targeted, again in the Kherson region, and killed by a Ukrainian gunman on August 6th.
At the end of this week, following the successful assassinations of Dugina and Sushko, a Russian-appointed deputy police chief was killed in Berdyansk on August 26th either by a car bomb or a roadside bomb that exploded in the vicinity of his police jeep. Yet another Russian collaborator was reportedly killed in Starobelsk on the same day, again by a car bomb. Video of the attack circulated on Twitter.
Thai Prime Minister Suspended, Surge of Violence in Deep South
On August 24th, the Constitutional Court suspended Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha from duty, while it deliberates on a term limit case. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon is the Interim Prime Minister, while Prayut is still the defense minister. The court is to rule on a petition submitted earlier this week. As per the 2017 Thai constitution, a prime minister can serve up to eight years (two terms). Former army chief Prayut took over in an August 2014 coup, and the opposition claims that he has served eight years as the prime minister since then. His supporters argue that his tenure only started once the 2017 Constitution was enacted or following the 2019 general elections.
General elections are scheduled for next year, but there are increasing indications that early elections may be called. Prayut in July survived the fourth no-confidence motion against him and the government since 2019. His ruling coalition has been developing cracks along various fault lines, especially over the last year. He remains popular amongst some of the affluent, conservative, Thai population, and has support from some sections of the military. He also has support from the monarchy.
Prayut and his administration have been accused of suppressing democracy in Thailand. The banned Future Forward Party’s election performance in 2019 stunned Prayut and the elite. The party‘s leader was removed as a Minister of Parliament and banned from politics, while the party itself was banned, in very politically motivated cases.
This angered Thailand’s younger demographic, who had been critical of Prayut and the government. These pro-democracy aspirations snowballed into a movement that at a time could rally thousands of people in downtown Bangkok. The movement demanded Prayut’s resignation, free elections, and a new constitution. The violence took place at many protests.
Some protesters called for a reevaluation of the monarchy’s role in Thai society, breaking a taboo of general silence around it. This created splits in the movement and lost them support; the monarchy is a highly revered institution. There is also an interesting subset of young working-class anarchists under the movement, who are disliked by some of the other groups. The Thai government arrested leaders of the movement, some activists were charged under the harsh lese majeste law, and the protests died down. Before the next elections, however, the pro-democracy movement will attempt to regain its footing.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling could be a potential flashpoint next month. If it rules in favor of Prayut (which, based on its history, is likely), then tensions with the political opposition and pro-democracy movement will increase. There could also be growing fissures in the ruling coalition, and general elections could take place this year.
Meanwhile, approximately 800 km south of Bangkok, violence is surging in Thailand’s Deep South. Since the start of August, there have been at least six attacks in Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani [source]. Three have taken place in the days since August 22. At least two people have been killed, while 13 have been injured in August [source]. The victims are mainly security forces.
The Deep South has been home to a decades-long insurgency. The Malay-Muslim demographic demanded autonomy; the region was only officially made a part of Thailand in 1932. The locals are very culturally and socially different from the majority Thai Buddhist demographic. Violence escalated in 2004 and since then has decreased generally. In the past year, there has been somewhat of a resurgence, and the recent weeks have been violent.
On August 16-17, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) conducted coordinated IED and arson attacks at 17 locations across the three provinces. It apparently claimed that the operation was targeted at destroying the Thai government’s attempts to overtake and suppress the local economy. The BRN also apologized for the civilian who died when its fighters burned down a 7-11 at a petrol station. The fighters had apparently asked people to leave the store before the attack.
The spate of recent incidents is not random. BRN and the government are engaged in peace talks (still in their infancy), that are apparently stalling. There has not been much progress in two years and the nature of the demands from both sides, coupled with the lack of compromise, means that it may never progress much. Earlier this month, talks hit an impasse. And then the attacks took place, almost instantaneously. The attacks are a way for BRN to remind the Thai government of its presence, in times when it feels that it is not being taken seriously.
The attacks also show anger at the Thai government for expecting the BRN to agree to a three-month ceasefire for Vassa or Buddhist Lent. A Ramadan ceasefire was adhered to by BRN and the government earlier this year. However, Bangkok did not adhere to a unilateral ceasefire the BRN announced during the initial COVID-19 onset in 2020, which Bangkok did not adhere to. It attempted to crack down on the insurgents. The Thai military has been accused of human rights violations against the population in the Deep South.
Given the seeming roadblock in the peace discussions, attacks are going to continue in the Deep South. BRN hopes to pressure the government to agree to some of its negotiating terms and demands through attacks. The government may agree to some of the negotiating principles, but the military will not let up its force-based campaigns and operations. Even if a temporary agreement is achieved, the last week shows the inherent fragility in the peace process and the long road ahead.
-Analysis by Uday
Pro-Islamic State Bomb-Making Tutorial Group Resurfaces
In recent weeks, Islamic State supporters in Tajik and Russian language channels and elsewhere have been posting an enormous amount of bomb-making and weapons-crafting/use instructional content. This has included materials produced by the notorious pro-Islamic State (IS) Al-Saqri Foundation for Military Sciences. This group was active at least as far back as 2018 and its guides on bomb and biological weapons making periodically resurface in and around the pro-IS media and communications sphere.
You can read Lucas Webber’s report on Al-Saqri Foundation here:
Al-Saqri is a particularly prominent player in the IS bomb and weapons creation space.
Moustafa Ayad, the Executive Director for Africa, Middle East, and Asia at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, notes that:
Instructional material, beyond bomb-making guides, are means by which you can both outwardly project strength, eg we know how to build bombs, and simultaneously instill fear, eg who might use this for attacks against us. It’s both a reminder and a means by which to goad supporters into action. It would be hard of course to map out whom it might resonate with and take it from instructions to attack.
The materials appear to be reposted rather than new, and Ayad says:
Central to the IS online ecosystem, are a series of repositories and archive channels, these documents survive through these means. They will continue to do so. They want their operational capacity to be feared, and these materials work to that end.
The Counter Extremism Project also noted the recent resurgence of Al-Saqri content and recorded that a pro-IS group shared “instructions for manufacturing the toxin ricin on JustPaste.It.”
Al-Saqri’s instructional materials have remained influential and continue to re-emerge throughout the online Islamic State ecosystem. The content promotes violent incitement, and it is conceivable that a hostile actor may use the group’s materials to plot and/or conduct attacks in the future.
Fresh Protests in Haitian Capital Amidst Soaring Inflation and Spiraling Gang Violence
A fresh wave of protests rocked the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince this week, as angry people demonstrated against soaring consumer prices, goods shortages, and rampant violent crime, including kidnappings and gang rivalries that have led to massacres and the destruction of whole neighborhoods. Corruption was also at the center of often violent demonstrations, as yet another $4 million in national revenue was revealed to have been pilfered by Haitian officials.
Haiti, a country with a long history of misfortune and tragedy, sunk even further into chaos after its president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his home by a team of foreign gunmen in July 2021. Afterward, the country spiraled into a cycle of gang warfare. It appears that some of the gangs have exploited the assassination to further their own agendas. The fighting between rival criminal groups in May 2022 was on such a scale that left them in control of territory on a level that has never been seen before by experts.
Inter-gang rivalries remained intense throughout the summer, but fighting resumed in the Cité Soleil neighborhood of the capital in mid-August, where one of the warring gangs has been accused of genocidal-like persecution of the locals, who are apparently more loyal to the rival faction operating within their neighborhood. The G9 gang, led by former police officer Jimmy Chérizier (aka “Barbecue”), has been accused of multiple massacres throughout Port-au-Prince that have collectively killed hundreds and displaced many more people living in neighborhoods controlled by G9 opponents. Chérizier is also thought to have close ties to the former prime minister, Moïse, as well as powerful politicians and acting police officials. Earlier this month, his gang carried out another round of killings and home arsons in Cité Soleil as a part of their ongoing conflict with the G-Pep gang operating there, leading to over 100 casualties in four days. The month prior, more than 200 people were killed in Cité Soleil, many or most of whom appeared to have little direct connections to a criminal gang.
Foreign governments and multilateral institutions have done little to help Haiti extricate itself from the cycle of violence. This week, US Department of Homeland Security officials noted the alarming number of small arms being smuggled into Haiti from the US, primarily from the state of Florida. Rather surprisingly, the United Nations Security Council just proposed an embargo on the transfer of small arms and light weapons to “non-state actors” in Haiti on July 15th of this year, but the resolution did not go far enough for permanent UNSC member China, who called for a full embargo of arms transfers to Haiti.
-Analysis by Scott Morgan and Tom Lord
Conflict Photos of the Week