Thailand’s military said Wednesday it was hunting four suspects over a large car bomb which injured more than 60 people outside a supermarket in the insurgency-plagued south.
The Muslim-majority border region has seethed with violence for over a decade as ethnic Malay insurgents battle the Buddhist-majority state for more autonomy.
Bombings and shooting are a weekly occurrence.
But on Tuesday two bombs – a small device followed by a much larger car bomb – went off outside a busy supermarket in the town of Pattani, the largest attack for months on a civilian target in the south.
Colonel Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the southern army, said the investigation was focused on two people who allegedly rode up on a motorbike to drop off the first device and on two others who left the much bigger car bomb outside the supermarket.
“Please give us some time, we hope to arrest them very soon,” he said, adding the perpetrators intended to “kill en masse and secondly to destroy the economy”.
Authorities said more than 60 people were wounded in the blast, some of them seriously, with 20 victims still in hospital on Wednesday.
Ethnic Malay militants have been fighting the military in Thailand’s three southernmost reasons since 2004 after dozens of civilians died in army custody.
Some 6 800 people have since died in the conflict, most of them civilians, with both sides accused of rights abuses.
The region was annexed by Thailand more than a century ago and has long simmered with resentment over Bangkok’s push to assimilate the ethnically and linguistically distinct locals.
The shadowy network of militants behind the violence almost never claims its attacks and rarely talks to the media.
Soldiers, police and local officials are frequent victims of the attacks but are also known to pursue soft civilian targets including teachers and monks.
Rights groups and UNICEF – the UN’s children’s agency – condemned Tuesday’s attack as one that was clearly aimed at killing or maiming large numbers of civilians.
Amnesty on Wednesday described the blast as “a horrific and deliberate attack on civilians” that showed “a callous disregard for human life”.
Don Pathan, an expert on the southern insurgency, described the blast as “very strange” because it so clearly targeted civilians, many of whom were local Muslims.
If it was the militants, he told AFP, it would be “like shooting yourself in the foot”.
The simmering insurgency plays out far from Thailand’s popular tourist resorts and receives little international attention as a result.
Unsuccessful peace talks have staggered on for years with little success.