Thailand: Political Motive Suspected in Deadly Bombings

Somchai Kwankijsawet
Hua Hin, Thailand
160812-TH-victim-1000 A man injured by shrapnel lies on the pavement after a small bomb exploded in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin, Aug. 12, 2016.
Somchai Kwankijsawet/BenarNews

Updated at 9:01 a.m. ET on 2016-08-14

An onslaught of bombings that killed four and injured dozens in Thailand likely was politically motivated, Thai officials said Friday.

Ten foreigners were among at least 34 injured in 11 bomb blasts in multiple locations across southern Thailand that began Thursday and spilled into Friday, a national holiday known as “Mother’s Day” which celebrates the queen’s birthday, the Health Ministry said.

Most of the attacks targeted southern tourist hotspots, including Phuket and Hua Hin, which houses Klai Kangwon, the summer palace of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit, who turned 84 on Friday.

Eight of the attacks took place within a three-hour span on Friday, indicating that they were coordinated, according to officials, who ruled out terrorism.

“The assailants must be in the same syndicate because this series of attacks needs several men to carry out making the bombs, delivering the bombs, planting the bombs and escaping,” Col. Piyapong Klinpan, the spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order – the formal name for the Thai junta – told BenarNews.

“There must be a kingpin to plan it out and execute it. Who he is, we will find out,” he added.

Politically motivated?

From the prime minister on down, Thai officials said they suspected that nearly all the attacks were politically driven and tied to this week’s constitutional referendum, in which a majority of voters approved a draft charter that critics see as entrenching military rule.

“You figure it out … why they happened when the country is starting to get better, its foundation starts to get firm,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters in Bangkok, alluding the referendum.

At a news conference in the Thai capital, the nation’s police chief said suspicion fell on political forces opposed to the adoption of the draft charter, which is expected within the next few months.

“All [the attacks] took place in seven provinces where voters accepted the draft charter. There might be some opponents who carried out [the attacks] to discredit [the government] or damage tourism,” Police Gen. Chakthip Chaichinda told reporters.

Police said they were ruling out a connection to international terrorism. Officials said they had also not found evidence tying the bombings to insurgents in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South, although the devices "were similar to those used by separatist groups in southern Thailand," the Associated Press quoted Chaktip as saying on Friday.

Some 60 percent of voters in the southern border region, which has seen more than 6,500 people die since 2004 in violence related to an insurgency, voted against the draft charter in Sunday’s referendum.

“The incident is not linked to terrorism but is an act of stirring up public disturbance,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

“Security officials are expediting the interrogation process to bring the culprits to justice. Please rest assured that the government and security agencies are working together to resolve the situation and bring about peace at the soonest,” it added.

Potato chip bags

The first bombing took place Thursday afternoon at a market in Trang province, about 900 km (560 miles) south of Bangkok, killing a soldier and injuring six others. The attack likely stemmed from a gangland dispute, officials said.

Two more bombs exploded in the evening in the resort town of Hua Hin, about 193 km (120 miles) south of Bangkok, killing one and injuring 21.

On Friday, twin bombs went off near a clock tower in Hua Hin, killing one and injuring three, officials said.

In Phuket, two small bombs exploded, injuring one.

In Phang Nga province next to Phuket, two bombs exploded but no-one was injured. In Surat Thani province, meanwhile, two bomb blasts killed one and injured three, officials said.

“All bombs were contained in potato chip containers or bags with improvised black powder. For last night’s bombs, they were detonated by cell phones,” an EOD official who inspected the bomb scenes near Hua Hin’s clock tower on Friday told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

Attacks on tourist sites in Thailand are rare, and tourism is a major driver of the Thai economy. The attacks on Thursday and Friday came nearly a year after a bombing at a Hindu shrine in Bangkok that is popular with tourists killed 20 people and injured over 100. Two ethnic Uyghurs have been arrested and charged in connection with that attack.

Police also revealed Friday that two other bombs were found in different markets in Phuket – a world-famous destination among tourists – on Wednesday, the day that the referendum results were officially certified, but the explosive devices were disarmed by a bomb squad.

Travel warning

The string of attacks caused the Australian government to issue a travel alert warning its citizens that “further explosions in any part of Thailand are possible.”

Condemnation of the attacks also poured in from abroad.

“We condemn these deplorable acts of violence.  Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and loved ones, and the Thai emergency personnel responding to these incidents,” said the U.S. State Department, which earlier in the week had voiced its concern about the referendum’s passage.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International, which has slammed the two-year-old junta’s record on human rights, also deplored the attacks.

“Nothing can justify intentionally carrying out indiscriminate attacks, which disregard the basic right to life. These acts of violence show utter contempt for human rights,” Champa Patel, senior research Advisor for Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia and Pacific Regional Office, said in a statement.

“Those behind the attacks must be brought to justice through fair trials. Amnesty International calls on Thai authorities to ensure their response is in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law,” Champa added.

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.

An earlier version incorrectly reported that Thai police had ruled out a connection in the bombings to southern Thai insurgents.


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