October 1, 2019 / 10:35 AM / 21 days ago

Thai PM says no Islamic State ties to Thailand as Egypt arrests student

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s prime minister said on Tuesday Islamic State (IS) had no links to his country, after Egypt arrested a Thai student over suspected ties to the Middle East-based militant group.

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives before delivering the policy statement of the council of ministers to parliament in Bangkok, July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

The Thai student, who has not been identified, was taken into custody by Egyptian authorities on Sept 24 in Cairo after a video clip circulated online that showed him voicing support for an “Islamic revolution” in an interview.

Photos allegedly linked to IS were also discovered on his mobile phone, the Thai embassy in Cairo said on its official Facebook page.

However, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha played down any IS links and said he had instructed relevant agencies to follow the case and provide assistance to the student.

“There has been constant monitoring and there are no links here with any foreign group,” Prayuth told reporters.

“The Thai ambassador in Cairo has met with the Egyptian deputy foreign minister asking for help and the Egyptian promised to follow up the case and cooperate with Thailand, we will not leave anyone behind,” he said.

The arrested student has previously been detained in Sudan and had moved to Egypt because he could not continue his studies in Sudan, said deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who oversees security and intelligence agencies. Prawit added that there are currently no IS activities in Thailand.

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist except in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, which are 80 percent Muslim. There are also pockets of Muslim communities in large Thai cities.

The three provinces, and a small part of neighboring Songkhla province, were historically part of a Malay Muslim sultanate annexed by Thailand in 1909 and a separatist tensions have simmered since then.

Almost 7,000 people have been killed in the last round of insurgency that has raged since 2004, but those involved say the struggle has been mostly about separatism rather than a global Islamist movement.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Editing by William Maclean

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