Bangkok bomber wanted to destroy tourism in Thailand

Bangkok bomber wanted to destroy tourism in Thailand

The bombers who killed at least 20 people and injured at least 140 in Bangkok intended to damage Thailand's tourism industry, the country's defence minister said.

Prawit Wongsuwan said investigators are getting closer to determining who set off the most devastating single attack in the capital's recent history.

The explosion at a central Bangkok popular shrine next to one of the city's busiest intersections went off around 7pm local time on Monday, as the upmarket area was filled with tourists, office workers and shoppers.

Mr Prawit said: "It is much clearer who the bombers are, but I can't reveal right now. We have suspects. There are not many people."

He said the Thai authorities had no intelligence on the attack before the blast, and that the bombers intended to discredit the government and harm the economy.

"We didn't expect this to happen in a crowded area," he says. "They aim to destroy tourism, economy, our country. But during crisis, we can build unity."

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha promised to "hurry and find the bombers" and said there was security camera footage of suspects.

He said before a Cabinet meeting: "We haven't concluded who did this, but they definitely are bad people. No matter what their intentions are, they took lives of innocent people.

"This is the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand. There have been minor bombs or just noise, but this time they aim for innocent lives. They want to destroy our economy, our tourism.

"I have seen the footage, we have some suspects but it is not so clear. We have to find them first."

Video shortly after the blast showed a scene of shock and desperation with people running for their lives and crying amid the debris.

Police and soldiers today guarded the area, still littered with shattered glass and other debris. The normally busy intersection was closed off to traffic and eerily empty aside from onlookers standing behind police tape to take pictures.

Barricades were set up outside five-star hotels in the neighbourhood and security stopped cars to inspect trunks before letting them pass.

China reported three of its citizens dead, and police said a Filipino was also among those killed.

Tourists reacted with concern.

"We didn't think anything like this could happen in Bangkok," said Holger Siegle, a German who said he and his new wife had chosen Thailand because it seemed safe.

"Our honeymoon and our vacation will go on, but with a very unsafe feeling."

As a single, devastating blow to the country, the bombing has no equal in recent history, though Thailand is no stranger to violent attacks.

A decade-long insurgency by southern Muslim separatists has left more than 5,000 dead far from the capital. In Bangkok, politically charged riots centred on the same intersection in 2010 killed more than 90 over two months.

The bomb detonated at the Erawan Shrine, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Brahma, but is extremely popular among Thailand's Buddhists as well as Chinese tourists. Although Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, it has enormous Hindu influence on its religious practices and language.

Throngs of tourists go there to pray at all hours, lighting incense and offering flowers purchased from rows of stalls set up on the pavement along the shrine.

Bangkok has been relatively peaceful since a military coup ousted a civilian government in May last year after several months of sometimes violent political protests against the previous government.

At the same time, the military government has tightly controlled dissent, arresting hundreds of its opponents and banning protests.

Tensions have risen in recent months, with the junta making clear it may not hold elections until 2017, and that it wants a constitution which will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.