THE BLAST that killed five people and injured hundreds at a shopping and hotel centre in Had Yai yesterday was caused by a car bomb, Royal Thai Police Commander General Priewpan Damapong said today.
He was speaking from the southern city where 28 people remained in intensive care. A total of 140 people were admitted to hospital after the bomb exploded, injuring scores more and scattering shoppers in all directions.
In three street blasts in Yala that preceded the attack in Had Yai, nine people were killed and 78 injured, an Army spokesman said today.
The toll of 14 dead in two cities in the space of a couple of hours alarmed officials. They fear the days when deaths and destruction from the south's long-running insurgency are confined to the southern Thailand provinces of Yala, Pattanai and Narathiwat may be drawing to a close.
The car bomb in the high-rise hotel and shopping centre in Had Yai, in the province of Songkhla, killed four men - one of them a Malaysian tourist - and a woman.
Detonating in an underground car park, the blast ripped the building's cooking gas pipeline, causing a fire that sent smoke spiralling into the upper floors and trapping many people in their rooms until rescuers came.
Television images showed a blanket of smoke covering the surrounding streets and shoppers, some with their clothes blown off by the blast, rushing to safety through exit doors.
The complex was packed when the explosion was triggered about 1pm, minutes after the Yala blasts.
The Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel and shopping complex was also targeted in 2006, when four people including a Canadian man were killed by six bombs that had been planted on Had Yai's main street, news agencies reported.
One likely effect of the blasts is almost certain to be a travel warning to tourists from Malaysia and Singapore.