Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET on 2017-05-23
A pipe-bomb explosion injured 21 people at a military hospital in Bangkok on Monday – the third anniversary of a bloodless coup in Thailand – but officials said they had yet to determine who carried out the attack.
The bomb packed with nails went off near a pharmacy inside the Phra Mongkutklao Hospital, said national police who linked the explosion to two recent pipe-bombings in the Bangkok area.
“Both explosive ordnance disposal officials and the K-nine unit confirmed it was an explosive. ... For the type we must wait for further investigation,” Gen. Srivarah Rangsipramanakul, the deputy national police chief, told reporters.
“There were traces of batteries and electric wire. ... The bomb, which had a two- to three-meter range [6.5 feet to 9.8 feet], went off in the public place and it must have been placed in a container,” he added.
Of the 21 hurt in the blast, eight were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries, hospital director Maj. Gen. Channarong Nakasawasdi said.
Also on Monday, four soldiers were injured in a roadside bombing in the province of Yala in Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South, as they were patrolling on motorbikes, the Bangkok Post reported.
National Police Chief Chakthip Chaichinda said investigators had not ruled out whether Monday’s bombing at the hospital was carried out by separatist rebels from the Deep South or by a group politically opposed to the coup, which brought the military to power on May 22, 2014.
“Deep South [insurgents] have the potential to do so. But whether they have come up to mount attacks, we don’t know yet,” Chakthip told reporters.
Similarities between other Bangkok area blasts
On April 5, a small bomb exploded at the old government-run Lottery Building in the Thai capital, slightly injuring two people while a similar bomb exploded in front of the National Theater on May 15, injuring two others.
The two incidents occurred close to the Royal Grounds in Bangkok, where a gigantic pyre is being constructed for the funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej later this year.
“The bombs in three attacks were of improvised type – pipe bombs with PVC tube container –but this third bomb incident contained nails, while the previous two did not. It could seriously injure or kill people nearby. ... Yes, those three are linked,” Chakthip told reporters on Monday.
The bomb in the latest attack was placed in a dispensary room in front of the hospital’s Wongsuwan Room, which was established as a tribute to retired Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, who has served as defense minister and deputy prime minister for security affairs since 2014.
A military coup, led by army Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, toppled the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Prayuth then became Thailand’s 29th Prime Minister and appointed Prawit to the two ministerial posts.
Since the generals seized power, the junta has imposed tight controls on freedom of speech and assembly, and has arrested government critics or others accused of violating Thailand’s strict royal defamation law.
Monday’s attack was not necessarily meant to coincide with the anniversary of the coup, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army said.
“The haters would capitalize on any occasion they could find,” Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart told a separate media briefing in Bangkok.
In August 2015, Bangkok was targeted in a bombing that killed 20 people and injured more than 120 others at the Erawan Shrine, a landmark in the capital that is popular with tourists. Two Uyghur men are standing trial in Bangkok in connection with the attack.
Since last year, other parts of Thailand have been attacked with bombs.
On Aug. 11 and 12, 2016, a series of coordinated bomb attacks killed four people and injured more than 30 others at tourist hotspots across the upper southern region. A few weeks later, a member of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – the largest of the armed separatist groups in the Deep South – told BenarNews that his combat unit had carried out those attacks.
Bombings occur frequently in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South, where nearly 7,000 have been killed in violence linked with the insurgency since 2004.
Earlier this month, more than 80 people, including children, were injured when two car bombs were set off outside the Big C, a department store in the Deep South province of Pattani. Authorities in the region say they have since arrested and questioned at least three suspects in connection with the attack, who, according to officials, confessed to being BRN operatives.
One of the suspects, identified as Suhaimee Sama-ae, is accused of hijacking and killing the driver of a truck that was used in the bombing outside the Big C store on May 9.
Officials acknowledged that the suspect had previously surrendered to the military through its so-called “Bring People Home” program, which encourages insurgents to lay down their weapons and turn themselves into the authorities peacefully.
An earlier version misidentified the director of the hospital as Saroj Keokajee.