A major intelligence-gathering operation by Thai police has snared a suspected key member of an Islamic separatist movement linked to recent violence in the south of the country. Police confirmed reports yesterday that they had arrested Sama-ae Thanam. But details surrounding his capture remain sketchy amid diplomatic speculation that Malaysian authorities were involved. Sama-ae, a suspected member of the Pattani United Liberalisation Organisation, was taken to a Bangkok safe house yesterday where he was to be questioned about terrorist attacks that have claimed more than 20 lives in the past five months. Thai police claim he is linked to three senior leaders of the organisation arrested last month. The force initially claimed the men had been arrested in Thailand but later reports said the trio had been picked up at safe houses in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. The three have since claimed through lawyers that their confessions of treason were beaten out of them by Thai guards. Thai authorities hold the group responsible for turning long-held Muslim resentments into an armed struggle. Attacks have come in waves over the past two decades, along with claims for an independent state in the south. The recent spate of bombings and violence has been the most serious for several years. A cash-strapped splinter group from the Pattani organisation is also said to have turned to banditry and racketeering to earn funds.