A series of blasts across Thailand has targeted tourist towns, killing four people and injuring dozens.
In the resort town of Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, four bombs exploded over the last 24 hours. Several blasts also hit the island of Phuket, one Thailand’s main tourist destinations, on Friday.
No group has said it carried out the attacks, but suspicion is likely to fall on separatist insurgents. The timing is sensitive, as Friday is a holiday marking the queen’s birthday.
The attackers appear to be focusing on tourist hotspots. So far there have been: Four blasts over 24 hours in Hua Hin where two people have died, Two blasts in Surat Thani where one person has died, Two blasts in the tourist beach town of Patong on Phuket island, One blast in Trang where one person has died, Blasts in the beach province of Phang Nga.
Hua Hin is about 200km (125 miles) from Bangkok while the province of Phuket is in the far south. Both places, as well as Phang Nga are known for their scenic beaches. Surat Thani saw two explosions in front of police stations within the space of half an hour.
Who Could Be Behind The Attacks?
Police on Friday said they had detained some suspects but ruled out international terrorism and said that any links to the southern insurgency were unclear. A spokesman said “fire bombs” had caused some of the explosions.
If southern rebels are behind these attacks, it would mark a significant change of tactics. The 12-year conflict in the south has killed more than 6,000 people, but has never targeted tourists.
Security has been tightened in the tourist areas and at airports in southern Thailand.
Thailand’s Southern Insurgency
• Decades of unrest in Thailand’s Muslim-dominated south spiralled into an Islamist insurgency in early 2000s
• Insurgent groups adopting separatist or jihadist rhetoric have targeted security forces, government workers and local Buddhist communities
• Violence largely contained within provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, near or bordering Malaysia
• Insurgent tactics have included drive-by shootings, bombings and beheadings
• Thai military and pro-government vigilantes have been accused of heavy-handed response, including the torture and execution of prisoners
Why Have Tourist Hotspots Been Targeted?
The attacks have clearly attempted to strike at Thailand’s crucial tourism sector. The Hua Hin explosions on Thursday night struck a bar area popular with tourists and foreigners were among those injured. But the choice of Hua Hin as a major target is also symbolic, our correspondent says, being known as a royal city and the king’s favoured residence outside Bangkok.
The blasts coincide with an important public holiday which celebrates the queen’s birthday. Brant Smith, from Canberra in Australia and on holiday in Hua Hin told the BBC that people in the idyllic resort were “rattled” and there was tight security around his hotel.
Has Thailand Seen Similar Attacks?
Homemade bombs have previously been used by attackers in Thailand at times of political unrest, but since the military took power in a coup in May 2014 such attacks have been extremely rare. “The bombs are an attempt to create chaos and confusion,” PM Prayuth Chan-ocha said to reporters. “We should not make people panic more.” This comes just days before the one-year anniversary of a bomb blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people.
Last week, Thais voted in a referendum which approved a new constitution that will strengthen the military’s influence in politics for many years. Foreign embassies have advised tourists to be vigilant. The UK Foreign Office has advised people in tourist areas in Thailand to “exercise extreme caution, avoid public places and follow the advice of local authorities”.