Thai junta links Samui island bombing to political opponents
BANGKOK (AP) A car bomb explosion that slightly injured seven people on the popular resort island of Samui in southern Thailand may be linked to the country's political turmoil, a spokesman for the military government said Saturday.
Initial reports indicated that the attack late Friday was carried out by the same group behind recent blasts in Thailand's capital that caused no fatalities, said Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He did not elaborate, but the leader of the junta that took power in a coup last May has blamed the Bangkok blasts on groups opposed to the military takeover.
In the Samui explosion, an improvised bomb was hidden in a pickup truck in the basement parking area of the Central Festival mall and went off after a fashion show, said the island's disaster prevention and mitigation chief, Poonsak Sophonpathumrak.
Seven people suffered minor injuries and were released from the hospital without being kept overnight, said Surat Thani provincial Gov. Chatpong Chatputi.
Authorities believe the pickup truck was stolen from one of the three southernmost Thai provinces plagued by an Islamic insurgency. More than 5,000 people have been killed in the three provinces since 2004. Muslim militants generally do not operate beyond those provinces, though a handful of bombings or attempted bombings in other areas have been tentatively attributed to rebels in the past.
The military linked the Samui blast to two small bombs that exploded outside a major shopping mall in Bangkok in early February, slightly injuring two people. Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said at the time that the blasts were aimed at discrediting the government.
In March, a series of arrests were made in connection with a grenade that was tossed at Bangkok's Criminal Court, and those detained were apparently sympathizers of the anti-government Red Shirt movement, which was formed by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after he was deposed in a 2006 coup.
Thailand has suffered from almost a decade of sometimes violent political unrest as supporters and opponents of Thaksin have jousted for power. Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected prime minister in 2011, but was forced from office by a controversial court ruling in May last year, shortly before the latest coup ousted her government.
Government critics have suggested that some of the bombings may have been carried out by the military government to justify its continued suppression of basic rights and liberties. The government denies that.
"Right now the authorities have found some connections that linked to the attacks in Bangkok, and they are now tracing the perpetrators from evidence at the scene," said Sansern, the government spokesman.
At about the same time as Friday's Samui bombing, a huge fire ripped through a cooperative store on the mainland of the same Surat Thani province. Thai media reported that two blasts were heard at the start of the fire, in which no one was hurt. The cause of the fire was unclear.
Associated Press writer Grant Peck contributed to this report.