- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

BANGKOK — Nerves were on edge in this self-proclaimed “Land of Smiles” ahead of a summit with President Bush and 20 other leaders, with authorities taking extraordinary measures to head off any terrorist attack on a hotel or aircraft.

In one dramatic demonstration, police fired bullets from a metal crutch to show their fellow officers how seemingly innocuous items can disguise terrorists’ weapons.

Police also showed shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets to some 5,000 intrigued taxi drivers and transport workers, urging them to watch for anyone trying to fire a missile from the elevated highway that runs past Bangkok International Airport.

“Air Force Chief Konsak Wantana said the main concern was that commercial planes could be hijacked and hit [arriving foreign] leaders’ aircraft in midair,” the Bangkok Post reported.

After an eight-hour stopover in Manila, Mr. Bush arrived in Bangkok amid tight security last night. At least one helicopter was seen flying overhead as his motorcade traveled from the airport to his hotel.

The president will leave Thailand on Tuesday, after participating in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit tomorrow and Tuesday.

While Thailand has never been a major terrorist center, Islamist extremists have been gaining strength in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesian terrorist leader Hambali, considered the chief strategist behind the Bali bombing that killed 202 persons, was captured in Thailand two months ago.

Thailand’s U.S.-built F-16 fighters will defend Thai airspace during the duration of the summit. Helicopters will hover above official motorcades when the leaders are transported through the city’s streets.

Possible threats also include poisoned food, spices or wine, so official testers will sample the APEC leaders’ meals.

Immigration officials with a government-issued “blacklist” were to bar entry into Thailand of pro-democracy activists, human rights officials, members of nongovernmental organizations and others who might stage protests during the APEC forum.

The list, combined with a ban on demonstrations, resulted in widespread complaints from human rights leaders and activists who vowed to defy the crackdown.

“Why do royal guests have to be faced with protests?” an exasperated Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra rhetorically asked journalists recently. “What would happen if a terrorist mingled with them?”

The government’s biggest fear is that militants inspired by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network might try to assassinate Mr. Bush and other leaders, or bomb soft targets such as tourist sites and transportation infrastructure.

In addition to Mr. Bush, leaders attending the summit were to include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

A total of 21 countries and territories with coastlines that open to the Pacific Ocean were sending delegations to APEC.

Other potential terrorist targets include an ornate royal barge spectacle to be held on Monday night on the winding Chao Phraya River, which flows through the Thai capital.

“The ventilation system at the Royal Navy Institute has been improved on the recommendation of U.S. security officials to ensure it could not be used in a biological weapons attack” while the leaders watch the barges row past from the riverside institute, the Bangkok Post reported.

Expensive hotels, embassies and other venues used by APEC delegates might also be targets for car bombs, officials said.

Thai officials have admitted that their security agencies lack the manpower to adequately protect visitors on their own and so have asked the public to help by reporting any strange activity.

Terrorists “act like tourists who love taking photos, but they want photos of buildings and roads only,” a senior security officer said at a seminar for government officials, hotel owners and ham radio operators.

Police Commissioner Sant Sarutanond discussed terrorist threats with more than 2,000 taxi drivers who responded to a police request for volunteers to help secure Bangkok during APEC events.

“I would regard motorcycle taxis and [automobile] taxis as our own police patrol cars,” he said. “Most of the police cars are being used in many assignments for the APEC meetings. Motorcycle taxis and taxis could compensate for the shortfall.”

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