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22 Thai Banks Bombed in Coordinated Attack

September 01, 2006|From the Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand — At least 22 bombs exploded almost simultaneously Thursday at banks in southern Thailand, killing one person and wounding 27. Four suspects were arrested and officials today were searching for more people visible on security videotapes.

Authorities said they believed the bombings in Yala province were timed to coincide with a national day in predominantly Muslim Malaysia and the founding day of an umbrella group of Muslim insurgents in the southern Thai provinces bordering Malaysia.

Closed-circuit video at the bank branches showed that some of the explosives were planted by women, police said, and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed confidence that the assailants would be arrested.

"I don't think it will be difficult to catch the suspects from today's incident because every bank has closed-circuit cameras, and they clearly saw the perpetrators," Thaksin told reporters.

The homemade bombs, which were triggered by cellphones, were placed in garbage bins, at newspaper stands and near seats where customers wait for service in the banks, said Maj. Gen. Paithoon Choochaiya, who heads the Yala provincial police force.

Some of the apparently small explosive devices were hidden in women's handbags or inside thick books carried by teenagers wearing school uniforms, said the army chief in the south, Lt. Gen. Ongkorn Thongprasom.

The bombs were set off in 22 of Yala province's 30 bank branches, including in the provincial capital and outlying districts.

The Islamic Bank of Thailand was among those attacked, reporters at the scene said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit said in Bangkok that authorities had learned that Muslim rebels were planning to launch a major attack Thursday to coincide with the national day of Malaysia and the founding day of Bersatu, believed to be an umbrella group for a number of rebel groups fighting the Bangkok government.

It wasn't immediately clear why the insurgents would stage the attack to coincide with a celebration of Malaysia's independence from Great Britain.

More than 1,500 people have been killed in the insurgency since early 2004, most of them in the Muslim-dominated provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. The rebels are seeking to separate from a country where Buddhists form the majority.

Violent incidents -- including bombings, shootings and beheadings -- occur nearly every day.

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