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Deadly Bomb Attack Rips Through Popular Bangkok Shrine


There is no shortage of theories about a bombing in Bangkok, Thailand.


No shortage of theories but only so much evidence. No one has claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack on a popular religious shrine.

INSKEEP: Here's what we do know. Bangkok is a popular tourist destination. And tourists, along with locals, appear to have been the target of last night's bombing that killed at least 20 people and wounded many more. Michael Sullivan has been at the scene.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Security officials were still dragging barriers into place this afternoon in front of the malls and hotels near the site of the bombing, and cleanup crews were busy trying to return things to normal. It's hard to imagine the bombers picking a better target, a shopping area and major shrine, popular with Thais and foreign tourists. And it's hard to imagine the bombers picking a better time, either, at 7 p.m. when the area was packed with traffic, with tourists and Thais, on their way out for the evening or on their way home.


SULLIVAN: Cellphone video captured the blast, and eyewitnesses painted a grim scene of carnage, of bodies and limbs scattered everywhere, the charred remains of several motorcycles lying in the road. Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said today, it was becoming, quote, "clearer who the bombers" but stopped there. He did say it was clear the bomb was aimed at crippling the economy by targeting a major tourist area. National Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang.


SOMYOT PUMPANMUANG: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "The perpetrators," he said, "are cruel and heartless." "They knew," he said, "there would be many casualties." But who are they?

DAVID STRECKFUSS: There are a lot of groups that are unhappy with the government right now, so there's a lot of possible suspects.

SULLIVAN: That's David Streckfuss, an academic and longtime Thai watcher who lives in the northeast of the country. A lot of groups unhappy, he says, with last year's military takeover, unhappy with the planned military drafted constitution and unhappy with the state of the economy more than a year after the military promised to make things better. Streckfuss says while it's too early to tell who's behind the blast, he doesn't believe it was the work of the opposition known as the Red Shirts, whose democratically elected governments have been ousted by the military twice in the past decade.

STRECKFUSS: The Red Shirt factions would seem to have little to gain by bombing a populated area or creating general turmoil and terror amongst the population. I think they would probably target army units or army bases.

SULLIVAN: Professor Paul Chambers, who specializes in the Thai military and Thai politics at Chiang Mai University, agrees. He also rules out Muslim insurgents in the south of the country. Not their style, he says.

PAUL CHAMBERS: We have to ask, who has the capability to do this bombing most efficiently and successfully? And who has the most to gain? So I think this points to elements of the military.

SULLIVAN: Disaffected elements of the military, he says, or disgruntled members of the Thai police, unhappy with the military's restructuring of the police post-coup, maybe even closet opposition supporters among the military. David Streckfuss says, again, it's too early to tell, but...

STRECKFUSS: Any authoritarian governments can use some sort of terrorist or bombing incident to its own benefit, even if it didn't have anything to do with it. And it can step up security measures on other fronts at a time when the government hasn't got a lot to show for its time and power at a time when the economy is flagging.

SULLIVAN: The Thai currency, the baht, dipped to a six-year low today, amid uncertainty that the bombing could scare off foreign tourists, a major source of income for the country. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.