BANGKOK, Thailand – Terrorists are plotting attacks next year at tourist resorts across Thailand, according to documents found in the house of a fugitive leader of the country's Islamic insurgency, a senior security official said.
The rebels also plan to turn three Muslim-dominated provinces in Thailand's south into a base for international terrorist groups, the official told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday.
The plans indicate the insurgents want to broaden a conflict in the south that has killed more than 570 people this year, and fuel concerns that their cause is gaining support among Islamic extremists outside the country.
Gen. Kitti Rattanachaya (search), a senior security adviser to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (search), said the seized documents indicate the separatists want to escalate their fight against the Buddhist central government next year.
"The situation will be terrifying as the terrorists open war on all fronts to divert attention from the southern area," Kitti, a former army commander in the south, told the AP.
He said the documents show that in 2005, the militants plan to attack "soft targets" such as the tropical beach resorts of Pattaya and Phuket, which draw tourist from around the world.
The documents were seized earlier this year from the house of Masae Useng (search), a former Islamic school teacher who the government accuses of masterminding a separatist plan for Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces, which border Malaysia.
Officials have said previously that the separatists have threatened to attack tourists sites, but have not said where the information came from.
Thaksin's government has struggled to quell violence in the south that has swelled since Muslim militants early this year rekindled a decades-old dream of an Islamic state separated from Buddhist-dominated Thailand.
Most of the deaths have been police and local government officials killed in drive-by shootings and small bomb blasts, while scores of militants have died in crackdowns by security forces who are accused of brutality.
Kitti said last year's arrest in Thailand of Al Qaeda-linked terrorist suspect Riduan Isamuddin (search), better known as Hambali, proved that international extremists had operated in Thailand for some time.
Hambali, a leader of the Southeast Asian terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (search), visited southern areas three times before his arrest in the central city of Ayutthaya, Kitti said.
Jemaah Islamiyah had cells in several Southeast Asian countries and allegedly had training camps in Philippines and Indonesia before a regional crackdown after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States crippled its operations.
Kitti said southern Thailand was a favorable for a hub of pan-Islamic extremism than the southern Philippines or Indonesia's Aceh province, where Muslim rebellions have long flared.
He said more than 3,000 Thai Muslim militants had received military training over the past seven years and thousands of stolen or illegally purchased weapons have been stockpiled.