FOUR SOLDIERS were killed and six others injured when a bomb attack targeted their patrol pickup in Pattani’s Sai Buri district yesterday morning.
Nine of the victims are soldiers.
The blast was so powerful it ripped the pickup into two pieces, killing the four soldiers who were sitting in the cargo bed of the vehicle. Five other soldiers in the same team suffered injuries. The surviving soldiers said attackers also opened fire at them, prompting them to return fire as the suspected insurgents retreated.
The only civilian victim in the incident was a passer-by.
“The blast caused a hole two metres deep and three metres wide at the scene, with shrapnel scattered all around,” Pol Lieutenant Sittichai Poonsawat, a deputy inspector at the Sai Buri Police Station, said.
An ongoing investigation suggests that the bomb used for the attack must have contained between 80 kilograms and 100 kilograms of explosives.
The bomb was detonated as four soldiers got out of the vehicle to check the area along the Joh Keu Yae-Sai Buri Road in Tambon Taping, as the patrol pickup moved nearby. Construction was ongoing at the spot to lay a water-drainage pipe under the road. The patrol team was on a mission to provide security to teachers, who are often the targets of insurgents in the raging violence in the deep South.
Authorities suspect that the explosion is linked to the ongoing unrest in the southernmost region. Pattani, like Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla, is a southern province bordering Malaysia. During the past 13 years, the unrest has already claimed thousands of lives in Thailand’s deep South.
Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon and Army chief General Chalermchai Sittisart expressed their condolences over the death of the soldiers yesterday.
The five injured soldiers have been hospitalised. Two of them are seriously wounded.
Prior to yesterday’s blast, an informed source said that security agencies had received intelligence reports that insurgents in the southernmost region were planning to stage bomb attacks.
Violence has continued unabated even though Thai authorities have now engaged in peace talks with groups having different opinions. Malaysia has been the facilitator of the talks.
Most locals in Thailand’s deep South are Muslims.
When asked about the seemingly unfruitful peace talks, Chalermchai said: “Issues involved are sensitive. It will have to take time.”
In a bid to prevent the conflict in the deep South from spiralling into a religious one, security agencies have lately asked a monk who had made radical comments about Islam to be defrocked. The monk has agreed.
“We have already made clear that some problems are too sensitive to comment on carried away by emotions at the spur of the moment,” Chalermchai said.
Several bomb attacks have occurred in the southernmost region lately. On September 14, a bomb blast in Yala caused two deaths and injured 19 security officials. Of the injured, one remained unconscious as of press time, bringing grief to his heavily pregnant wife. Another one had to have one of his legs amputated.