Thailand blasts: more devices found as authorities blame sole mastermind

Thai police officers patrol near Erawan shrine in Bangkok on Sunday amid increased security measures in tourist areas following a series of bomb blasts.

Thailand has said a series of explosive and arson attacks that killed four people and injured dozens in popular tourist spots across several provinces last week were orchestrated by one person who ran a network of bombers.

More attacks appeared to have been planned and authorities found two incendiary devices in Hua Hin on Sunday, the interior ministry said.

“The acts were carried out by a group in many locations simultaneously, following orders from one individual,” Pongsapat Pongcharoen, a deputy national police chief, told reporters on Sunday. He did not provide further details.

One suspect is in custody for strikes that appeared to target Thailand’s vital tourism industry, with blasts on Thursday and Friday in the top seaside resort areas Hua Hin and Phuket.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks but analysts point to political enemies of the ruling junta or members of an ongoing insurgency in the Malay-Muslim-majority south.

The strikes, a series of small improvised bombs that also left 10 Europeans wounded, came less than a week after the country’s military rulers, who took power in 2014 coup, won a country-wide referendum on a constitution that entrenches their power in any future government.

The results antagonised the junta’s political foes across the country.

Hua Hin, where miles of high-rise hotels line the Gulf of Thailand coast, was the scene of the worst wave of bombs. Explosives hidden in plant pots detonated late on Thursday in the high-density bar district and again on Friday morning by the central clock tower.

Another fire bomb was also found on the island of Phuket on Sunday, police said, and two devices in Phang Nga. Explosives had detonated in both those areas on Friday, as well as Surat Thani, a provincial capital used as a land route for island hopper visitors.

The attacks were not linked to international terrorism but planned to create “chaos and confusion”, coup leader and prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said.

When a devastating bomb hit Bangkok a year ago, killing 22 people and wounding more than 125, the government issued several contradictory statements over the ensuing weeks, eventually announcing it was the work of a human smuggling network. However, no group ever claimed the attack.

Senior figures in the main opposition Pheu Thai party said on Saturday their members were not to blame for last week’s strikes. Political violence is common in Thailand and two Pheu Thai former prime ministers and siblings, Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, were overthrown in coups in 2006 and 2014.

Members of the 12-year insurgency in the south, which has left more than 6,000 people dead in a fight for greater autonomy, have also been considered as potential culprits.

Three home-made bombs exploded in the deep south province of Yala on Sunday night but caused no casualties, local media reported.

And the Bangkok Post quoted Police Lieutenant General Suchart Theerasawat, assistant national police chief, as saying the bombs were “related and similar to those found in insurgent attacks in the deep south”.

However, militants do not normally target tourists and stick to provinces close to the Malaysian border.

The dean of Thailand’s Rangsit University’s faculty of economics was quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying the attacks may cost as much as 33.4bn baht (£744m) in economic losses. Tourism accounts for 10% of Thailand’s GDP.

[Source: The Guardian]