SURAT THANI – Police have confirmed that a car stolen from the restive southern border province of Yala was used to stage a bomb attack at a prominent shopping mall on Koh Samui island last night.
The car bomb exploded at the parking lot of Central Festival Samui at around 10.30 pm yesterday. The blast injured at least six Thais and one 12-year-old Italian girl, rescue workers say.
Almost simultaneously, a fire erupted at Surat Thani Cooperative Store, known among the locals as Co-op, in the mainland, though it has not been confirmed whether the two incidents are linked.
According to police, witnesses said they heard "two loud explosions" from the Co-op building shortly before the fire started.
The incidents came at a time when the country was preparing to celebrate the occasion of Thai traditional New Year, or Songkran, which takes place between 13 and 15 April. Koh Samui island is also a popular destination for Thai and foreign tourists.
Pol.Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang, commander of the Royal Thai Police, told reporters today that the car bomb vehicle that targeted Central Festival mall was reported stolen in Yala province on 31 March. The car was bearing a forged license plate when it was found at the bomb site, Pol.Gen. Somyot added.
"We found evidence that the perpetrators installed explosives in the car," Pol.Gen. Somyot said as he visited the bomb site, "But we are still investigating what type of bomb it was."
The southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have been the hotbed of the separatist insurgency for the last decade. Shadowy Islamic militants regularly stage bomb attacks, arson, and shootings against the security force and civilians in the bid to revive the independent sultanate of Patani, which was annexed by Thailand in early 20th century.
More than 6,200 people are believed to have been killed since the secessionist campaign broke out in the region, known as the Deep South, in 2004. The violence occasionally spilled to the neighboring province of Songkhla, though Surat Thani has been spared from the bloody insurgency so far.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks last night. Pol.Gen. Somyot said it is too early to determine motives of the incidents. However, he suggested that the arson of the Co-op store may have been politically-motivated.
"We are investigating whether politics is involved, because Co-op is owned by Phra Suthep, or Mr. Suthep Thaugsuban," Pol.Gen. Somyot said, referring to the leader of the street protests that preceded the coup d'etat on 22 May 2014.
The police commissioner continued, "As for our intelligence, there has been no previous warning of any unrest during Songkran festival, but police have been vigilant all the time. I would like to condemn the perpetrators. They have no good will toward the country."
"I admit that the bombing will certainly affect tourism, because the area has many Thai and foreign tourists. I will instruct all units to step up security measures," Pol.Gen. Somyot said.
Meanwhile, police have detained a man who identified himself as owner of the car used in the bombing. Abdulrasae Dumeedae, a 52-year-old Yala resident, said he informed the police that his car was stolen on 31 March.
Abdulrasae is currently being detained at a paramilitary ranger base in Yala for interrogation, said Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanongsak Wangsupha, commander of Yala police force.
"Mr. Abdulrasae gave contradictory testimonies about the incident. He has not provided us with any useful information," Pol.Maj.Gen. Thanongsak said.
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