Thailand has “no links” to any foreign militant group, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha said Tuesday, after Egyptian authorities arrested a Thai student over suspicions that he supported Islamic State extremists.
The Thai Embassy in Cairo has not identified the detained student but posted a statement on its Facebook page Saturday, saying it had taken steps to help him. It said the student was arrested on Sept. 24 after security officials “found photos that might indicate a link to IS” on his mobile phone.
“Officials keep monitoring (Thai Muslims), and there are no links here with any foreign group,” Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok.
According to the embassy, the arrest took place after a TV station in Egypt had “disseminated a clip” online allegedly showing the student expressing his support for the Islamic State (IS) group during an interview.
Prayuth did not mention the student’s name, but said the Thai Foreign Ministry was dealing with authorities in Egypt.
He said Thai Ambassador Chainarong Keratiyutwong had discussed the student’s arrest with Hazem El Tahry, deputy vice minister of the Egyptian foreign ministry, who “promised to follow up the case and cooperate with Thailand.”
The arrested student had previously been detained in Sudan and he relocated to Egypt because he could not carry on with his studies there, Reuters news service quoted Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as saying.
On Monday, a shopkeeper in the Thai Deep South told BenarNews that her 25-year-old son, Aiproheng Malee, was the student taken into custody in Egypt, but she denied that he had ties with militants.
“[Egyptian] officials found photos of IS on his cell phone. They forced him to confess, so Aiproheng did,” said Ya Malee, a grocery store owner and resident of Yala province, citing information relayed to her by one of her son’s friends.
“I am seeking help from the government, please help him,” she said.
It was not immediately clear if charges had been filed against Aiproheng. The Thai embassy in Cairo was trying to gain permission to visit the student to provide legal and consular assistance, Thai officials told BenarNews on Monday. Officials at the Egyptian embassy in Bangkok, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to inquiries from Benar.
Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, has a majority-Muslim population in its Deep South region, where a separatist insurgency has killed almost 7,000 people since the conflict reignited in early 2004, according to rights groups.
While Thai officials have brushed off the threat of an IS presence in the country, officials in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia have been warning about the group’s growing influence in recruiting local youths on their countries’ home soil.
Prayuth told reporters that Thai embassies and diplomats had been instructed to make sure that the nation’s youths who are studying abroad would come back and build a career in their homeland.
“Those who are learning both religious matters and regular curricula, we encourage them to learn from moderate Muslim countries. Then come back and have occupation to make a living,” he said.