Bangkok: A bomb explosion ripped through a shrine in the Thai capital, killing at least 22 people and injuring more than 100 others, according to Thai police.
National Police Chief Somyot Poompanmuang told reporters the attack was unprecedented in Thailand. “It was a pipe bomb,” Mr Somyot said. “It was placed inside the Erawan Shrine.” Several of those killed were foreigners.
Most of the injured were tourists from China and Taiwan. CCTV video shows pedestrians running from a flash of bright orange light near the Erawan Shrine near shopping malls and five-star hotels in Bangkok’s Chitlom district.
They included children who fell to the ground in terror. Body parts are scattered around the Erawan Shrine near shopping malls and five-star hotels in Bangkok’s Chitlom district.
The explosion occurred around 7pm (10pm Melbourne and Sydney time) when the area is usually packed with people.
Police said initial reports were that the blast may have been caused by a motorcycle bomb.
Witnesses said people at a shrine were hit by the full force of the blast.
The shrine adjacent Ratchaprasong intersection, where political demonstrations have taken place in the past is a major tourist attraction. The area has been cordoned off by police. Ambulances were at the scene.
“It was like a meat market,” said Marko Cunningham, a New Zealand paramedic working with a Bangkok ambulance service, who said the blast had left a two-metre-wide crater.
“There were bodies everywhere. Some were shredded. There were legs where heads were supposed to be. It was horrific,” Cunningham said, adding that people several hundred metres away had been injured.
Thailand’s military leaders immediately condemned the attack, saying it was designed to damage Thailand’s tourism and its economy. There is no doubt it will do both.
As yet, no-one has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the ruling military says it remains too early to speculate which group may have been responsible, but authorities are following all possible leads.
They will be considering the trouble in the deep south of the country where Muslim insurgency has led to horrific and violent attacks near the Malaysian border, including beheadings.
But it is rare for the militants in the south to take their fight outside Thailand’s southernmost provinces.
Major Bangkok bomb attacks
2010 April: Five grenade blasts hit Bangkok, targeting hundreds of pro-government supporters in attacks that leave one dead and scores wounded, including foreigners.October: A blast at an apartment complex kills four, with the government blaming the incident on the anti-government “Red Shirt” movement.
2011 June: Two people are injured in a blast at a political protest by Thailand’s “Yellow Shirt” demonstrators near Government House.
2013 May: A homemade bomb hidden near rubbish bins in a busy suburban Bangkok shopping area explodes, injuring seven people.
2014 January 18: One protester dies after a bomb attack at an opposition march in Bangkok. Authorities and demonstrators blame each other for the blast.January 19: Twin blasts by unknown attackers at an anti-government protest in central Bangkok leave 28 injured.
2015 February: Two small bombs explode near a popular shopping mall in downtown Bangkok leaving one man injured.Since last year’s military takeover, there have been a series of small pipe bomb explosions — most notably outside a busy shopping mall. But no-one was injured and no-one claimed responsibility.
Violent street protests last year saw the so-called “red shirts”, or pro-democracy forces, pitted against the monarchists, or Thailand’s elite known as the “yellow shirts”.
The protests led to dozens of deaths.
There is growing frustration among some that the ruling military is being too slow to return the nation to democracy.
It has already missed a self-imposed 2015 deadline for an election.
That the bombing was an act of international terrorism has not been ruled out, but to date there has been no suggestion Islamic State or any other terrorist organisation has infiltrated the Thai capital.
There has also been suggestions the attack could be linked to the deportation of a large group of Chinese Uighurs from Thailand back to mainland China.
The Erawan shrine is popular among Chinese tourists, but with no-one taking responsibility for the horrific attack, it remains speculation.