Thai police on Wednesday killed a suspected rebel during a shootout in the nation’s Deep South after seven men stole pickup trucks that they intended to convert into car bombs, officials said.
The suspects killed one of their hostages and wounded another, police said.
The gunfight occurred after the suspects seized six pickup trucks from a used-car dealership and took four employees hostage in Songkhla province’s Nathawee district, 950 km (about 600 miles) south of Bangkok, officials said.
Police pursued the suspects and set up checkpoints in neighboring provinces.
During the pursuit, one of the vehicles ran out of fuel and the rebels opened fire at their four hostages, seriously injuring two, Col. Panyawat Pecthcum, chief of a local police station, told reporters. One died at a nearby hospital, while two others ran away unharmed and were rescued by residents.
“We were informed by a village headman that villagers rushed to the scene after hearing gunfire,” Panyawat said, adding the villagers found two hostages suffering from gunshot wounds, but the gunmen escaped.
More than an hour later, authorites encountered one of the stolen vehicles at a checkpoint in Thepa district, said Maj. Gen. Piyawat Chalermsri, chief of Pattani Provincial Police Bureau.
Police reported killing a suspected rebel during a shootout following a robbery at a car dealership in Thailand’s Deep South, Aug. 16, 2017. [BenarNews]
“We were radioed … about the robbery and the possibility of bad guys passing by this highway, so we tried to intercept them at various points,” Piyawat told reporters as he surveyed the scene of the gunfight. “A pickup truck tried breaking the barrier, leading to a pursuit and a deadly shootout. One perpetrator was killed.”
He said the truck was carrying a gas tank converted into an improvised explosive device.
“The perpetrators are Deep South insurgents who desire to continue sabotaging the region,” he said.
About 30 minutes after the shootout, one of the stolen vehicles was found abandoned at a bridge in Pattani province’s Nong Chik district, officials said. It exploded as government forces traveling on a military vehicle passed the bridge, slightly injuring four soldiers.
Officials said they believe the insurgents were planning to rig the stolen trucks into car bombs to attack targets in the Deep South.
Big C attack
In a similar attack on May 9, suspected Malay-speaking insurgents set off two car bombs near the Big C department store in Pattani town, wounding more than 80 people, officials said.
That attack overshadowed two-year-old peace talks between Thailand’s military government and MARA Patani, an umbrella body representing rebel groups in the region. Since late February when the delegations agreed to a framework for setting up a limited ceasefire, at least 50 people have been killed and about 140 others injured in shootings and bombings across the Deep South.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 as a result of violence related to the conflict in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region.