First published in Vice News August 17
A bomb blast ripped through the center of Thailand’s capital Monday evening, killing at least 20 people and injuring over 80 others. The bomb exploded by the Erawan shrine, a popular religious site located in the heart of Bangkok’s teeming shopping district.
“Those who have planted this bomb are cruel. They aim to kill because everyone knows that at 7pm the shrine is crowded with Thais and foreigners,” Somyot Pumpanmuang, Thailand’s national police chief, told reporters. “Planting a bomb there means they want to see a lot of dead people.”
Located at an intersection between two major roads and almost directly underneath Bangkok’s aboveground train system, the shrine is wedged amid several huge shopping centers and a five-star hotel. Thousands of office workers, tourists, and shoppers pass by the immediate vicinity on a daily basis, while hundreds pay their respect at the shrine itself.
First responders and military personnel cordoned off the area shortly after the blast, placing white sheets over the dead. Crime scene investigators and medical staff immediately began scouring the area for evidence and placing markers around suspicious items, while a team of forensic photographers captured every detail of the harrowing scene.
A number of motorbikes were strewn across the street, two almost completely burned by the blast. Chunks of the shrine’s walls littered the intersection, and pools of blood marked with white chalk could be clearly seen from 50 meters away. Body parts were continually being found all around the area, signaled by a rush of police and forensic investigators.
Confusion and chaos still surround the blast, and several medical and military personnel on the scene were unaware of the details and unable to answer questions put to them by VICE News.
“We still don’t know for sure who did this and why,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters shortly after the attack. “The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district.”
Rumors quickly spread on social media claiming the explosion was the result of a car accident, a motorbike bomb, a car bomb, or several bombs in the area. “It was a pipe bomb… placed inside the Erawan shrine,” the national police chief later told reporters, calling the latest official death toll of 16 “unprecedented.”
Near the Erawan shrine, incredulous Thais and unaware tourists peered past the crowd of police, military, and medical officials toward the blast site. One cordon was positioned so close to the shrine that people in the crowd accidentally kicked evidence markers. Nearly three hours after the explosion, investigators discovered a human foot about 40 meters away from the shrine.
A long-running insurgency in Thailand’s “Deep South” escalated in the early 2000s, but the violence has mainly been contained to that region, and attacks in the capital are incredibly rare. The last major bombing attack in Bangkok occurred in 2006, when a series of bombs killed at least three people shortly after a military coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The Thai government has cautioned against speculation about who is responsible in the immediate aftermath of the attack, though fingers are already being pointed at loyalists of the former prime minister, and at “ethnic insurgents” in the Deep South.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha reportedly plans to set up a “war room” to coordinate the country’s response to the attack.