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22 Simultaneous Bank Bombs Explode In Thailand

22 Simultaneous Bank Bombs Explode In Thailand


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- In a bloody, stunning display of discipline, suspected Muslim insurgents exploded 22 time-bombs in 22 banks on Thursday (August 31) killing one person, a week after an apparently unrelated car bomb "assassination plot" against Thailand's prime minister.

Most of bank bombs were placed on tellers' counters amid throngs of customers and staff, while other bombs were inside banks' ATM machines, police said.

The 22 hand-made bombs exploded like clockwork within the space of five minutes, between 11:30 a.m. and 11:35 a.m., scattered across Muslim-majority Yala province in southern Thailand.

"Mostly, the militants used young men dressed in student uniforms to plant small bombs which were hidden inside books," regional army commander, Lieutenant General Ongkorn Thongprasom, told Thai TV.

Bombers also hid explosives in women's handbags, garbage baskets, on plastic seats, and other places near customers who were writing bank slips to make deposits and withdrawals, police said.

At one bank, an obese woman wearing a T-shirt, loose trousers, and carrying a large bag across her shoulder, casually waddled into two rooms, quickly exited each time, and escaped before a blast, according to closed-circuit video broadcast on a Thai TV news program.

The interior of stricken banks revealed twisted metal, shattered glass, splintered furniture, wrecked ceiling lights, blood-stained floors and other debris.

One person died in the blasts, triggered by mobile phone signals, and 30 customers were injured, security officials said.

Blasts rocked Thailand's most-popular banks including multiple branches of the Government Savings Bank, Bank of Ayudhya, Krungthai Bank, Kasikorn Thai Bank, Siam City Bank, Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, Thai Military Bank, and Siam Commercial Bank.

The Islamic Bank, which opened claiming to conform to Muslim demands that no interest be involved in its financial services, suffered bombings at two branches -- possibly because the bank was set up by the government.

Buddhist-majority Thailand's security forces -- heavily trained and armed by the United States -- have clumsily fought a losing, escalating war in southern Thailand, which is the world's worst Islamist insurgency outside Iraq.

About 1,500 people on all sides have perished in southern violence since January 2004.

Thai security forces provoked widespread hatred in the south when they suffocated to death 78 Muslim men, by tying them up and stacking them on top of each other inside army trucks in 2004.

In an apparent separate bomb-related incident, billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said an unexploded car bomb, parked near his house on August 24, was a plot by military officers to stage a coup.

"There are three to four military officers involved in the assassination plot," Thaksin told reporters on August 25.

"There is a movement to bring the government to collapse, and to kill the government's leader," Defense Minister General Thammarak Isarangkun told journalists.

Thaksin fired the military's Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) deputy chief, Pallop Pinmanee, on August 24 after Pallop's former driver, ISOC Army Lieutenant Thawatchai Klinchana, was arrested in the bomb-laden car.

Tough-talking Pallop reportedly trained in the United States, and worked alongside the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in America's "secret war" in Laos, when the Vietnam War spread across Indochina.

ISOC is supposed to conduct anti-insurgent intelligence operations in the south, but police made no immediate connection between the alleged assassination attempt against the prime minister and the south's almost daily bombings, killings, and other assaults.

Muslim ethnic Malay guerrillas are fighting for autonomy or independence in three Muslim-majority provinces in the south -- Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani -- annexed by Thailand more than 100 years ago and currently under martial law.

Southern Muslims also complain of injustice, corruption, discrimination and unemployment.

They appear to favor clamping harsh sharia laws on the south, inspired by Islam's holy Koran and subsequent, conflicting, often sexist interpretations, known as hadiths.

"I don't want to use the term employed by the UN for African countries -- that is, 'failing' or 'failed states' -- that the UN has to rehabilitate. I don't want Thailand to come to this, but it is possible," said opposition-minded, former prime minister Anand Panyarachun on Wednesday (August 30) at the Thai Journalists Association.

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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