BANGKOK, Thailand – At least 22 bombs exploded almost simultaneously Thursday inside commercial banks in southern Thailand, killing two people and injuring 28 in a region bloodied by a Muslim insurgency, police said.
The homemade bombs, which were triggered by mobile phone signals, were placed in garbage bins, at newspaper stands and near seats where customers wait for service in the banks in Yala province, said Maj. Gen. Paithoon Choochaiya who heads the provincial force.
Authorities said that two suspects had been seized.
A review of close-circuit video showed that some of the explosives were planted by women, police said.
The army chief in the south, Lt. Gen. Ongkorn Thongprasom, said some of the apparently small devices were hidden in women's handbags or secreted into thick books carried by teenagers dressed in student uniforms.
"We received some intelligence reports, but we did not anticipate it would happen inside banks, especially on the last day of the month. We don't believe they are that cruel," Ongkorn said. Banks are normally crowded at month's end with customers withdrawing funds from their deposited salary checks.
The bombs were set off in 22 of Yala's 30 bank branches, both in the provincial capital and outlying districts.
The Islamic Bank of Thailand was among those attacked, according to reporters at the scene. The bank, set up in five southern provinces by the government, was created according to Muslim law, which prohibits interest.
"It's scary. We can't estimate the damage yet," said Pridiyathorn Devakula, head of the Bank of Thailand, the country's central bank, in Bangkok.
Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit told reporters in Bangkok that authorities had learned the rebels were to launch a major attack Thursday to coincide with the national day of neighboring Malaysia and the founding day of Bersatu, believed to be an umbrella group for a number of rebel groups fighting the Bangkok government.
"I ordered them (authorities concerned) to take precautions and prevention but this incident still occured," he said. It was not 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 vast majority.
Targets of the rebels have included government officials, school teachers, policemen, Buddhist monks and many Muslims suspected of collaboration with the government.
Violent incidents — bombings, drive-by shootings and beheadings — occur almost daily.
Last weekend, suspected insurgents killed the highest-ranking officer to die in the south since 2004. Col. Suthisak Praertsri and another soldier died when a bomb exploded under their vehicle as it was moving into a village in Yala.