BANGKOK, Thailand– Thai police say they are looking for a man seen in CCTV footage who they believe may be connected to the deadly bombing that hit a popular shrine in central Bangkok on Monday evening
Police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri said Tuesday that the attack had killed at least 22 people. About 120 people are reported to have been wounded.
The blast struck the Erawan Shrine, a site popular among Buddhists, as well as Hindu and Sikh members of Thailand’s Indian community.
The shrine, situated at a busy intersection near a large shopping mall, is a big draw for tourists. Chinese and Malaysians are among the dead, officials said.
The blast struck around 7 p.m. Monday during a busy time in the area, sending a huge plume of smoke and flames into the air.
“It was like this huge gust of wind and debris flying through you,” recalled Sanjeev Vyas, a DJ from Mumbai, India, who was in the middle of the fray. “And then I see bodies everywhere, there are cars on fire, there are bikes everywhere. People are screaming.”
There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Thai authorities haven’t made any announcements about who they believe might be behind it.
National police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang said on state-run TV that authorities had been warned about possible attacks, but that they didn’t know where or when they might occur.
Scale of attack shocks observers
Analysts say it’s unclear which group would want to carry out an attack that’s likely to hurt Thailand’s tourism industry, a key part of the economy.
The capital, which was convulsed by political unrest last year, has experienced small-scale bomb and grenade attacks in the past. Two devices exploded at an upscale shopping mall in the city in February but didn’t cause any casualties.
But Monday’s attack was of a different magnitude altogether.
“It is by far the most devastating attack that Bangkok has seen — or Thailand has seen, for that matter — as far as I can remember,” said Joseph Liow, a senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies.
“CITY BOMB HORROR,” blared the headline of the Bangkok Post on Tuesday.
Puzzle over who might be behind bombing
Observers say the attack doesn’t fit with the campaign of violence mounted by Islamic insurgents in the far south of Thailand, near the border with Malaysia.
“Their complaints are very local, and they have tended to attack military and security targets,” said CNN global affairs analyst Bobby Ghosh. “They have not really committed a terrorist attack of this nature against civilians, much less tourists. This does not seem to bear their fingerprints.”
Experts say the shrine attack could be linked to the political instability that has plagued Thailand in recent years.
The military seized power in a coup in May 2014, ousting the democratically elected government that had been beset by long-running protests in Bangkok.
“There are political groups that are opposed to military rule, but they’re democrats and this is not their style either,” Ghosh said. “They don’t go around bombing innocent civilians. And hurting Thailand’s economy, which this will do, is the last thing that they would want.”
Authorities were still identifying the attack’s victims Tuesday.
Five Thais, four Chinese people, two Malaysians and a Singaporean are among the dead, said Maj. Gen. Witoon Nitiwarangkul, the surgeon general at Bangkok’s Police General Hospital.
Medical officials had earlier reported that a Filipino was killed in the attack, but the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it was still verifying that claim, according to the state-run Philippines News Agency.