Thailand is blaming a deadly blast at an apartment complex near Bangkok on the anti-government “Red Shirt” movement as investigators probe whether a bomb-maker caused the explosion accidentally.
Authorities said the powerful blast, which killed at least three people and injured nine late Tuesday, was believed to be linked to political unrest.
“It’s clear that the bombers are Red Shirt people,” Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon said on Wednesday.
“As far as I know there were several bombs stored in that room, as you can see that it was very powerful. There are a lot of bombs kept in other places,” he said.
Police found three bodies and one severed limb, suggesting the final death toll could be four, said Chatree Charoencheewakul, head of the Emergency Medical Institute of Thailand.
The blast – believed to have occurred in a room on the second floor of the apartment building in Nonthaburi Province north of Bangkok – shattered windows and damaged nearby buildings.
“It was about 10 kilos of explosive material,” Lieutenant Colonel Kamthorn Ucharoen of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Identification Special Operation Division said.
“We are checking what type of bomb it was but we found nitrate. The bombers were probably making a crude bomb inside room 202 and there was an accident and it exploded prematurely,” he said.
The explosion came hours after Thailand extended a state of emergency in Nonthaburi and three other provinces, including Bangkok, for three more months.
Gatherings of more than five banned
The emergency laws were introduced in the capital in early April in response to mass anti-government rallies by the “Red Shirt” movement that ultimately left 91 people dead in clashes between demonstrators and the army.
The rules ban public gatherings of more than five people and give security forces the right to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge.
The government has stepped up security following a string of grenade attacks in Bangkok, including a blast at a bus stop in July that killed a man.
The Red Shirts deny any involvement in the explosions and have accused the government of a conspiracy to justify tougher security powers.
A senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the latest blast was “related to the current political situation”.
He added: “This is a signal that more violence is expected.”
The Thai government has come under pressure from the United States and rights groups to roll back the state of emergency to help the country recover from civil violence that has left it deeply divided.
Authorities have used their emergency powers to arrest hundreds of suspects and silence anti-government media.
The two-month rally by the Reds, many of whom back fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, attracted up to 100,000 people demanding immediate elections, but was broken up by the army on May 19.
After the crackdown, enraged protesters set dozens of major buildings ablaze in the heart of Bangkok, including a shopping mall and the stock exchange.
About 6000 Red Shirts held a peaceful gathering in central Bangkok last month to mark four years since the coup that ousted Thaksin, and to commemorate those slain in the May crackdown on their protests.
The mainly poor and working-class Reds largely support Thaksin for his populist policies when in power, and their April and May rallies demanded snap elections, accusing the current government of being elitist and undemocratic.
Thailand is also struggling to contain a raging insurgency in its Muslim-majority southern provinces, where there are near-daily gun or bomb attacks.