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Car Bomb in Southern Thailand Triggers Tighter Security

Thai officers examine the wreckage of a pickup truck after an explosion at Samui Island in Surat Thani province, Thailand, April 10, 2015.
Thai officers examine the wreckage of a pickup truck after an explosion at Samui Island in Surat Thani province, Thailand, April 10, 2015.

A bomb explosion in a shopping mall parking lot in southern Thailand has triggered fears of more violence targeting the country’s highly lucrative tourism industry.

Police and officials are intensifying investigations into possible links to Thailand’s fragile political climate or to Muslim insurgents from nearby southern provinces.

The bomb blast in the basement car park of a department store on the island of Samui came late Friday night and injured seven people, including an Italian girl.

Investigators said the improvised bomb was detonated remotely and destroyed the vehicle, which was reported to be stolen from the southern province of Yala.

The attack on the resort island, 770 kilometers south from Bangkok, follows the explosion of two small devices outside a major shopping mall in the Thai capital in early February that injured two people.

Security officials initially blamed supporters of the former civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra, overthrown by the military in May of last year.

A security advisor to the government, Panitan Wattanayagorn, said the investigations were also looking into whether the attack was linked to Thailand’s bloody Muslim-led insurgency in the three southern provinces bordering Malaysia.

“This is unlike the usual operations in the southern provinces - they do not often come out from the area. Even though they come out from the area from time to time, the difference in terms of planning and execution are quite pronounced. So, as of now, there is no conclusion yet,“ he said.

Links to insurgency?

Thai police sources have not fully ruled out links to the decade long insurgency. Since violence resumed in 2004, more than 5,000 people have been killed, many by explosions, in key commercial areas.

But those attacks have remained within the largely Muslim-populated provinces of Yala, Naritiwat and Pattani.

Analysts point to reports of growing splits within insurgent ranks in pressing for greater autonomy or independence, with harder line groups seeking to launch attacks outside the largely Muslim provinces.

Panitan says investigators have much to consider.

“The investigations will be increasingly intense in the next few days as the police have been able to gather more evidence related to the car or more cars, and that there are questions over the owners of the cars and the circumstances surrounding the stealing of the car,” he said.

The Samui island community numbers only around 40,000 and its economy is highly dependent on tourism, with around one million visitor arrivals annually. The Thai tourism industry is a major driver of the economy with national earnings of more than $40 billion a year.

Officials said security has been stepped up on Samui island, including checks on visitor arrivals at the airport, vehicles and tighter security at hotels since the attack.