Bangkok is still reeling from the bombing that took place at 6:55 p.m. local time last night. The bomb was detonated near the Erawan shrine, a Hindu shrine that is popular with tourists and locals alike. At least 19 people have been killed and there have been reports of over 120 people injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but unlike other parts of the world, this is far from unusual in Thailand.
The two main groups in suspicion has settled on for the Bangkok bombing are Malay separatists from the South and Redshirt activists looking to return controversial ex-president Thaksin to power. If it was the separatists who are fighting an insurgency in the regions around the Thai/Malay border, the bombing represents a worrying escalation of force and violence. Leaving aside the possibility that the force of the blast was miscalculated, the scale of this attack can be said to be unprecedented in the context of either conflict.
Since the start of the insurgency in 2004, attacks by Malay Muslem separatists have tended to be targeted and apparently planned to minimize loss of life while maximizing demonstration of military capabilities. In this attack, a 3kg pipe bomb was only one of four that were intended to be detonated – another three devices were found and defused by Bangkok security forces. While multiple devices planted around busy neighbourhoods is standard methodology for the insurgents, a device this large is a significant step up without the accompanying devices. The insurgents have tended to stick to small IEDs and have not typically targeted areas as central as Bangkok. In fact, insurgents have made statements regarding their targeting policies that would indicate that they wish to conduct a primarily defensive jihad, and that attacks in distant areas like Bangkok are considered counter-productive.
The use of pipe bombs as opposed to IEDs would also be consistent with Redshirt activists, with a February attack in nearby Siam Paragon occurring in February. The conflict between the Redshirts and the military has frequently turned violent in the past, with the military launching M79 grenades into Redshirt encampments during the last year’s protests. Once again, however, last night’s bombing in Bangkok is on a much larger scale than anything that has gone before in this confrontation. If it is, indeed, Redshirt agitation as the ruling military junta has implied, the choice of target and the timing of the bomb’s detonation would both indicate a willingness to inflict far greater casualties than previously.
Whether this is a continuing escalation of the insurgency in the South, or a fresh outbreak of violence from Redshirt supporters of President Thaksin Shinawatra, the Bangkok bombing is bad news for the military junta who have sought to legitimize their rule on the basis of providing stability and security. The concern is that they will crack down even harder than before on whoever they decide to blame for Bangkok, possibly worsening an already degrading situation.
Thai authorities have announced this afternoon that they have identified a suspect from CCTV footage, according to AP. While they have not released his identity, Thai officials state that he is from an anti-government group associated with the Redshirt movement. Some analysts seriously doubt this assessment, being sceptical of both the government’s motives in accusing the group and of the likelihood of a Thai based rebellion choosing to bomb a religious site. It is thought possible that the military government may be capitalising on the attacks to focus attention on the Redshirts and, by doing so, promote their own legitimacy.
[Image via SMH/AFP]