Muslim insurgents widen bombings to civilian targets
Lindsay Murdoch, BANGKOK(SMH): Muslim insurgents have widened their bloody attacks in Thailand’s south to target busy commercial and tourist areas.
Their killings in the past have mostly been drive-by attacks on military targets or other symbols of Thai authority, such as schools and teachers. Only occasionally have they launched indiscriminate attacks such as on Saturday afternoon when co-ordinated vehicle bombs targeted areas frequented by Thai-Chinese, Buddhists, Muslims and foreigners.
Eleven people were killed and more than 400 injured in the blasts, more than 100 of them seriously. At least one of the dead was Malaysian.
The attacks came after weeks of steadily building tensions in the region where more than 5000 people have been killed since 2004.
”This is the worst attack in the past few years,” said Colonel Pramote Promin, a regional military spokesman. ”The suspected insurgents were targeting people’s lives … they [chose] a bustling commercial area, so they wanted to harm people.”
The first bomb planted in a utility ripped through restaurants and shops in Yala City, a main commercial hub. As onlookers gathered and emergency services rushed to the scene, a second vehicle bomb exploded, causing more casualties.
Photographs showed the bomb outside a 7-Eleven store tore apart vehicles and shops frequented by ethnic Chinese, Thai Muslims and Buddhists. A security camera showed one of the bombers fleeing the scene on a motorcycle.
Another bomb exploded at the Lee Gardens Hotel in Hat Yai, capital of nearby Songkhla province. Three people were killed and 230 hurt, mostly from smoke inhalation in that blast. Authorities said the bomb had been planted in a vehicle parked in the hotel basement. The hotel is popular with weekend Malaysian and Singaporean tourists.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts and the motives remain unclear. The level of violence in the region has worsened in the past two months after the military admitted responsibility for killing four civilians in January. Local Muslims have also been enraged by a video clip in which a soldier was filmed having sex with a teenage Muslim girl.
Since February 29, four soldiers have been killed and six injured in attacks and bombings. Thai authorities have been cracking down on illegal drug and petrol trading, which they say have been raising funds for insurgents.
The Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, ordered authorities to launch an investigation into the bombings and help victims. She made an election promise last year to give autonomy to the troubled provinces but her government has since mainly left efforts aimed at ending the violence to the military.
The aim of the insurgents appears to be to make the region ungovernable for unclearly stated reasons.