Monday, August 17, 2015

Bangkok explosion: deadly blast near popular shrine kills at least 19

Deadly bomb in a popular tourist area of central Bangkok the worst carnage of any single attack in Thailand in recent memory

A distressed man talks into his mobile phone after a large explosion rocked the central Bangkok intersection Photo: AP

By David Eimer, Bangkok

8:00PM BST 17 Aug 2015

A bomb exploded in a popular tourist area of central Bangkok on Monday, killing at least 19 people, including three tourists and injuring more than 100, in the worst carnage of any single attack in Thailand in recent memory.

The device detonated soon after 7pm at the Erawan Shrine, located at the corner of one of Bangkok’s busiest intersections and adjacent to shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. Most of those killed are believed to be locals and Chinese tourists.

Rescue workers evacuate a casualty Photo: PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP

“I saw bodies and pieces of flesh in the road. A couple of Chinese people were lying in the street bleeding from their legs,” said Tussi Pajala, a Finnish man who was eating at a nearby restaurant.

Bloodied bodies lay sprawled inside the shrine, which is both a popular tourist attraction and a place where locals go to pray, while wrecked motorbikes and shattered glass littered the Ratchaprasong intersection where the Erawan Shrine is located.

Thailand’s police chief Somyot Poompanmuang said the bomb was planted inside the shrine. “It was a pipe bomb,” said Mr Somyot. Local media quoted police as saying that three kilograms of TNT had been detonated.

Bodies covered by white sheets lie next to the popular Erawan Shrine Photo: Demotix

One Thai policeman told the Telegraph that it had been planted by a woman, although there has been no confirmation. The Bangkok bomb squad is believed to have later defused another device.

CCTV footage of the blast showed rush hour traffic engulfed in a fireball and terrified pedestrians fleeing for their lives, while the shock wave from the explosion smashed and buckled windows.

“I was forty yards away in the next door mall when I heard a huge explosion. The windows bent in but didn’t give way, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now,” said Alan Parkhouse, an Australian who was heading to a restaurant to eat with friends.

Briton Lucinda-Jane Chastain told how the whole building she was in was shaken by the bomb. “It was just this massive explosive noise. The whole building shook. All you can see is a horrible mess on the road.”

A lady cries put as she searches for a missing person Photo: EPA/RITCHIE B. TONGO

There were chaotic scenes in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as ambulances, fire trucks and police cars raced through Bangkok’s snarled rush hour traffic to reach the scene.

The area around the shrine was cordoned off, as rumours spread that more bombs had been planted in the area, while desperate locals and tourists attempted to find out if their friends and relatives had survived the attack.

One distraught Thai man was searching frantically for his parents. “They were praying at the shrine. I’ve tried calling them but I’m not getting any reply. I don’t know what to do,” he said.

A police officer collects photographic evidence Photo: Mark Baker/AP

Many of those injured were taken to the Police General Hospital, across the road from the Erawan Shrine.

“We have over sixty injured here,” said one nurse close to tears. “There are no westerners. The victims are Thais, Chinese, Singapore, Malay and Filipino.” Other people wounded in the explosion have been taken to hospitals elsewhere in Bangkok.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bomb, which may also have devastated Thailand’s image as the ‘Land of Smiles’. With almost 25 million overseas visitors arriving last year, Thailand’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism.

Defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan said that, “The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district”.

Tourists sit with emergency personnel as they take a break from the bomb site Photo: EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

Muslim insurgents in the deep south of Thailand have been fighting for their own independent state for decades, but they have never before mounted attacks in Bangkok, or ever targeted foreigners. That has led to speculation that terrorists from outside the country may have decided to expand their campaign.

But Thailand has also been gripped by political violence in recent years, with scores of people dying in Bangkok in 2010.

The military took control of the country last year in a coup, but Thailand remains deeply divided between the rural poor and the traditional elite and urban middle classes.


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