PATTANI: At least 59 people, several of whom were children, were injured when two powerful bombs went off at a Big C Supercentre in Muang district Tuesday afternoon.
The shopping centre was also the target of a bomb blast in 2005 and an arson attack in 2012.
The first explosion, which sounded like a giant firecracker, occurred near the entrance to the Big C building around 2.50pm, security officials said.
About 10 minutes after the first blast, a second bomb blast occurred outside the building, damaging the structure and causing a fire.
It took firefighters about one hour to bring the blaze under control.
The second bomb was inside a bag placed in a pickup truck parked near the entrance of the building, they said.
According to eyewitnesses, the driver of the pickup was seen parking the vehicle in the car park near the building and then abandoning it and running away.
The truck bomb parked and ready, photographed inadvertently by a shopper (left) and after it exploded in a blast that could have killed dozens.
Moment of detonation: Another accidental video shows shoppers walking to the store as the truck bomb explodes.
After the first blast, security guards sealed off the building preventing people from entering or leaving. The impact of the second bomb injured people inside the building.
Most of the injured were parents and their children, who were shopping for the new school term. All the injured were sent to Pattani Hospital, according to Wichianchok Phetphakdee, the director of the remedial centre of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC).
Two of those injured were in critical condition, while 21 were later discharged. The rest of the injured are still in hospital.
Wounded and trapped inside the store, families sheltered as best they could - but the decision to lock all the doors probably saved many lives.
Col Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command's (Isoc) Region 4 forward command, said the pickup truck was parked near the entrance to the building, suggesting the bomb attack was meant to lead to multiple deaths.
Fortunately, store security guards had sealed off the area to prevent people from entering and leaving the building after the suspicious vehicle was detected. Col Pramote said that the first bomb might only have been a giant firecracker used to divert the attention of authorities.
Security officers found out the pickup that contained the bomb outside the department store belonged to Nuson Khachornkham, who lives in Yala's Muang district. His wife said her husband had driven to sell canvas in Pattani and she had been unable to contact him.
Another suspicious object was found at the Diana department store in Muang district, though nothing dangerous was detected, police said.
After the blasts, security checkpoints were set up along all the routes around Pattani to look for suspects involved in the bomb attack.
Fourth Army chief Piyawat Nakwanich rushed to the scene of the blast and called an urgent meeting of security agencies to plan an investigation and assess the security situation in the area.
Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr denied that bombs were linked with the Islamic State (IS) terror group. There were earlier reports of a Malaysian national, suspected by Malaysian authorities to have links with the IS, who had fled to Thailand and repeatedly entered and left the country.
Gen Udomdej said that authorities in the deep South have been instructed to step up security and intelligence operations to prevent any future attacks.
Defence spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said that Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon had ordered agencies to do their best to ensure the injured people are well looked after and to track down the perpetrators and bring them to justice as quickly as possible.
Rescue workers are seen at a blast site outside a Big C Supercentre in Pattani yesterday. REUTERS
The Big C Supercentre in Pattani was targeted for a bomb attack for the first time on Aug 1, 2005 when a home-made bomb hidden in a potted plant was detonated by a mobile phone in the shopping centre's car park.
The second attack took place on the night of March 11, 2012 when a fire occurred on the shelves containing napkins. Forensic officers later found that the blaze was caused by an incendiary device. No one was hurt as the incident took place after the department store was closed.
Unicef Thailand issued a statement condemning the indiscriminate attack in Pattani.
"According to reports, children are among the dozens of people injured in the bomb attack on a large and busy shopping centre in Pattani, Thailand...
"Unicef condemns such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, where children and their families are known to be present. No child's life should ever be put at risk in this way. This is wholly unacceptable," the statement read.