Monday, January 01, 2007
'BOMBING IN' THE NEW YEAR
ollowing the early evening wave of bombings across Bangkok last night, a second wave of attacks took place on the stroke of midnight at either end of a major avenue slated to be filled with tens, or possibly hundreds of thousands of citizens ringing in the New Year. Thankfully, these events had already been cancelled, and those already gathered had dispersed calmly just hours earlier. Department stores and shopping malls were also evacuated smoothly last night, well before the second set of explosions.
The midnight bombings did injure quite a number of people, including some foreign tourists. The first went off at a large seafood restaurant in Pratunam, where one foreigner had his leg blown off. Minutes later, a phone booth at Central World Plaza (formerly our World Trade Center) exploded, injuring more bystanders including six foreigners. The foreign victims are said to include those from Britain, Serbia, Hungary, Ireland and United States. Several other unexploded bombs were found last night as well, also targeting highly crowded areas including the Lumpini Night Bazaar, and the backpackers' Mecca, Khao San Road. Bangkok Post is reporting that there was an explosion in Khao San, but I haven't seen this confirmed yet.
2Bangkok has a round-up of latest dispatches, and thoughtfully includes Google Earth placemarks for each of the bombing sites. He also posts a video at that page, taken last night at Saphan Kwai.
The perpetrators traced a great arc right across this city, stretching from the northern suburbs (actually in a neighbouring municipality), across the very centre and sweeping to the southeast. Several of the blasts took place near traffic police posts. My understanding at this point is that one person was killed at Saphan Kwai, one at Victory Monument, and (correcting my hasty correction of last night) a shrine custodian was killed at Klong Toei market. 2Bangkok also has two pages of exclusive photos from Saphan Kwai and Victory Monument.
By now, of course, the rumour mill is operating at full tilt boogie. Basically, there are three theories. First, the Muslim separatist insurgency in the South has finally exported its terror to the capital. Second, the undercurrents of those who lost power and influence resulting from the September coup were trying to destablise the country and bring down the interim government. Third, figures in the interim government and/or leaders of the coup d'etat carried out the bombings themselves in order to have an excuse to crack down on .... something.
The government today has been playing down the likelihood of jihadist or separatist involvement, while most informed observers also believe that such a large operation would be well beyond their means. PM Surayud suspects "power losers" but as yet has not pointed his finger more specifically. Former PM Thaksin, currently in Beijing, has already denied any involvement. The first theory may have an early strike against it, as preliminary analysis has shown that the explosives used were quite different from those employed by the terrorists in the South. The third theory may be expected to be favoured by the conspiracy-minded fringe groups, including some Thaksin supporters and others antagonistic toward the interim government.
The multiple-strike, tightly coordinated nature of the attacks would tend to conform with previously seen Islamist tactics, but may have also been intended to do exactly that. It is difficult to believe that supporters of the Thai Rak Thai Party ("Thai Loves Thai") would set about to kill innocent civilians for their political purposes. So there seems to be an additional ingredient here, and for me it's too early in the investigation to lean toward either theory one or two. A cadre of Thaksin loyalists would certainly be capable, but why would they have such intent? The southern terrorist groups would certainly have the intent, but how could they suddenly become so capable?
Indonesia had a quiet, bomb-free Christmas and New Year's this year. But there was serious concern with the continued "at large" status of the fugitive jihad bomber Noordin Mohammed Top -- reputed to be an excellent bomb-maker. Someone like that could certainly boost the capabilities, and perhaps improve the techniques of the groups that were, until now, based in the South. It may be advisable for Thai investigators to contact their Indonesian counterparts and compare notes.