Simultaneous motorcycle bombs killed two people in Thailand
HAT YAI, Thailand, Sep 16: Simultaneous motorcycle bombs killed at least two people and wounded more than 50 on a busy street in the southern Thai town of Hat Yai today, police and health officials said.
Attacks were expected this weekend in three Muslim provinces further south on the anniversary of the foundation of one of the separatist guerrilla groups there, but the bombs in Hat Yai took authorities by surprise.
The Health Ministry in Hat Yai and police said two people were killed in the attack, but Thai television said at least four died when at least three remote-controlled bombs hidden in motorcycles went off on a street of shops and hotels.
''Two Thais were killed at the scene, but we don't know how many might have died at hospitals,'' said a spokesman for Songkhla police chief Paitoon Pattansopon.
Television showed two bodies covered in white sheets. One foreign man was among those killed, ITV said.
Two more explosions were heard at a cinema in a shopping mall and at a hypermarket, but no one was hurt, police said.
The town switched off its mobile telephone network, apparently fearing other bombs might have been planted which could be set off by remote control, a method often used by militants in the far south.
Ambulance sirens wailed as they rushed the wounded to hospital as smoke billowed up from the sealed-off brightly-lit street.
Fire-fighters hosed down a burning taxi.
Hat Yai is on a major rail junction and is popular with tourists from nearby Malaysia for weekend getaways.
''After the explosions, Thai and Malaysian tourists were running for cover and screaming,'' witness Att Suwanjunee told ITV. ''It was unusually busy tonight because many Malaysian tourists came during their national day holidays.'' The bombs came as authorities tightened security for possible attacks in the three Muslim southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, where more than 1,700 people have been killed in separatist violence since Jan. 2004.
''We didn't anticipate the attacks to happen in Hat Yai,'' Southern Army Commander Ongkorn Thongprasom told ITV.
A bomb at Hat Yai airport which killed one person last year was one of very few attacks outside the three far south provinces, where most are Muslim and speak a Malay dialect.
The largely Buddhist Bangkok government has tried various means from brute forces to throwing development money at the three southern provinces, but nothing seemed to work so far.