Malaysian tourists were among four killed and 110 wounded in multiple blasts in the insurgency-plagued Thai south, authorities said Saturday, amid concerns that foreigners were targeted.
Three Malaysians, including a three-year-old boy, and one Thai national died in explosions near two hotels and a Chinese-Thai cultural centre in a coordinated attack in Sungai Golok town, Narathiwat province on Friday night.
Police said militants may have deliberately aimed to hurt tourists in the triple bombing, one of the largest in recent months in the Muslim-majority deep south where a seven-year rebellion has left thousands dead.
“The insurgents intended to raise the violence to the level of international terrorism by targeting foreigners,” said Phaithoon Choochaiya, commander of Southern Border Province police, during a visit to see the injured at the town hospital on Saturday morning.
Shadowy rebels regularly target security forces, government workers and Buddhist and Muslim civilians in attacks, but the violence rarely affects foreigners.
The director of Sungai Golok hospital said 19 Malaysian tourists were among the wounded in Friday’s blasts. He said 40 people were still being treated for their injuries and the rest had been discharged.
Two devices – outside the Parkson hotel and the Chinese centre – were believed to have been planted on motorcycles. Another explosion outside the Merlin hotel and near a police station was thought to be from a car bomb.
Other police and army figures gave another explanation for the violence, saying drug dealers, who provide money for local militants, instigated the blasts in revenge for a recent narcotics crackdown.
“The blasts last night were definitely retaliation from drug dealers who fund the insurgents. Every time we focus on drugs, there is more violence,” Sungai Golok police colonel Jakkarporn Tantong said.
Lieutenant General Udomchai Thamsarorat, of the Fourth Army Area Command, concurred, saying illegal activity “is the cause of all the trouble” in the area.
Malaysia said it could not yet confirm the number of its citizens killed or wounded in the blasts, in a statement from the country’s foreign ministry, which noted that violence in the deep south had “escalated” recently.
It would “monitor the developments” and liaise with the Thai authorities “to get a clearer picture on the bombing,” the statement said.
Around 4800 people have been killed in near-daily attacks since early 2004, according to Deep South Watch, an independent research group that monitors the conflict in three southern provinces near the Malaysian border.
The group has said it has seen a higher frequency of attacks with a greater intensity of violence in recent months.
On Thursday five soldiers were killed after suspected insurgents opened fire on those wounded in a roadside bombing, police said.