At least 18 people are dead and more than 100 injured in an explosion that rocked the area near the popular Erawan shrine in a busy intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday morning.
The explosion took place at the Rajprasong intersection, located in Bangkok's commercial hub. It's been the site of several political demonstrations in recent years. The bomb reportedly detonated in front of the Erawan shrine, a popular shrine to the Hindu god Brahma, where thousands of Buddhist devotees visit every day.
The site is a hubbub of activity, with quiet worshippers sometimes flanked by Thai dancers hired by those seeking good fortune, while groups of tourists shuffle in and out.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, which caused the worst carnage of any single attack in recent memory in the Thai capital. 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.
The area around Bangkok's Erawan Shrine is filled with hundreds of tourists, office workers and shoppers at any given time. Police said the bomb was made from a pipe wrapped in cloth.
"Whoever planted this bomb is cruel and aimed to kill," said national police chief Somyot Poompummuang. "Planting a bomb there means they want to see a lot of people dead."
At least 18 people were confirmed dead and 117 injured, according to the Narinthorn emergency medical rescue center.
"We are not sure if it is politically motivated, but they aim to harm our economy and we will hunt them down," Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters.
Anusit Kunakorn, secretary of the National Security Council, said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief, was closely monitoring the situation.
The last major bombings in Bangkok took place on New Year's Eve 2006, when a series of bombs killed at least three people and wounded dozens. Those bombings occurred just three months after a military coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Although Bangkok has seen a period of relative calm since last year's coup, there has been some tension in recent months, with the junta making clear that it may not hold elections until 2017 and wants a constitution that will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.
Stirring the pot has been Thaksin, who posted a message on YouTube urging his followers to reject the draft constitution because he said it was undemocratic. The draft charter is supposed to be voted on next month by a special National Reform Council. If it passes, it is supposed to go to a public referendum around January.
Another source of recent tension is the annual military promotion list, with the junta's top two leaders -- Prime Minister Prayuth and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit -- widely believed to be supporting different candidates. The reshuffle, which comes into effect in September, has traditionally been a source of unrest, as different cliques in the army, usually defined by their graduating class in the military academy, seek the most important posts to consolidate their power.
The 2006 coup set off a battle for power among Thaksin's supporters and opponents, sometimes in the form of violent protests.
Protesters from both sides sometimes faced armed attacks by unknown groups, with more than 90 people killed in 2010 during pro-Thaksin demonstrations that were quashed by the army. The focus of the 2010 protests was the same intersection where Monday's blast took place,
In March, a grenade was tossed at Bangkok's Criminal Court. Those arrested were reportedly sympathizers of the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt movement.
And in April, a car bomb exploded at a shopping mall on the resort island of Samui, injuring seven people. The motive was unclear, though the government suggested it was linked to politics.
Car bombs are rare in Bangkok, but have been used in Thailand’s south, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has waged over several years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.