Bomb Blast Hits Popular Thailand Shrine

Publish Date
Tuesday, 18 August 2015, 8:51AM

A bomb has exploded outside a religious shrine in a bustling hub of the Thai capital, killing at least 19 people and injuring more than 120 others in an attack authorities said targeted foreigners.

The blast occurred about 6.30pm (2130 AEST) on Monday when the streetside Erawan Shrine close to upscale shopping malls was packed with worshippers and tourists.

"I heard a very loud bang, it made the whole building shake so I ran outside to see what had happened," Panupan Chansing, 20, a hotel worker at the nearby Grand Hyatt Erawan, told AFP.

"I saw bodies lying on the ground and I saw vehicles on fire. I feel very sad and sorry that this has happened to Thai people ... I'm scared."

Police confirmed 19 people were killed, including 10 Thais, one Chinese and one Filipino citizen. More than 120 others were injured, according to police.

The nationalities of the other people who died were not immediately clear.

But China's official Xinhua news agency said two Chinese nationals had died, while the governments of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan reported that some of their citizens were injured.

Bangkok has endured years of deadly political violence, with a military junta now ruling the nation, and a decades-long Muslim insurgency in the far south that has claimed thousands of lives.

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told AFP the blast was likely politically motivated and designed to bring "chaos".

Thailand's defence minister said the bombing was aimed at foreigners in an attempt to damage the country's tourist industry, which is a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy.

"It was a TNT bomb ... the people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," said Prawit Wongsuwong, a former general who is believed to have been one of the key coup-makers.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, however, and it was unclear immediately who was responsible.

Islamic militants have carried out many attacks in other parts of Southeast Asia, including on Indonesia's holiday island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people.

But they have not made Thailand a prime target.

A government spokesman said it was too early to speculate on who was behind the attack.

Glass was strewn across the street after the explosion inside the gates to the shrine, which is in the central Chidlom district close to the famous Sukhmuvit Road shopping strip.

Charred and shattered motorcycles littered the scene, alongside hunks of concrete, with pools of blood on the pavement and two bodies crumpled on the steps of the shrine.

The attack drew quick condemnation internationally, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office releasing a statement saying he was shocked.

"He expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and to the people and government of Thailand," the statement said.

"He hopes that those responsible will be brought to justice."

Newstalk ZB