PATTANI, Thailand – Suspected insurgents sprayed gunfire into a mosque, killing seven worshippers, and a roadside bomb killed 11 paramilitary troops almost simultaneously in some of the worst recent violence in southern Thailand, the army said Friday.
The bomb exploded Thursday on a road in Bannang Sata district in Yala province as government-hired paramilitary rangers drove by, killing 10 of them instantly, said Thai Army spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote. Another ranger died later at the hospital.
One ranger was slightly wounded and the truck was damaged, Akara said.
The rangers had earlier been negotiating with Muslim protesters in a nearby district, he said. The whole area has been under a military curfew since a deadly bombing at a mosque and a grenade attack on a tea shop that left 10 people dead and wounded more than 20 on March 14.
Almost immediately after the bombing, an unknown number of assailants opened fire on a group of Muslim villagers leaving a mosque after evening prayers in nearby Sabayoi district of Songkhla province, killing five villagers at the scene, Akara said. Two others died later at the hospital.
It was not immediately clear why the worshippers were attacked but officials blamed Muslim rebels.
"The insurgents opened fire on the Muslim villagers and put the blame on the authorities ... They want to create an impression that authorities cannot take care of the Muslim people in the area," Akara said. "Worse still, they want people to think the authorities did it to poison the relationship between the government and the local population."
Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist, but Muslims are a majority in the deep south, where they have long complained of discrimination.
Buddhists living and working in southern Thailand have been the targets of Muslim insurgents. However, Muslims — mostly working for the government — have increasingly fallen victim to the violence in recent months.
Thai military authorities have blamed such attacks on Muslims bent on intensifying hatred against the government and to radicalize Muslims and push them into joining the insurgency.
Some Muslims believe the security forces, or even Buddhist vigilantes, might have a hand in the attacks.
Since a Muslim rebellion flared in the three southernmost provinces in early 2004, near-daily bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks have killed more than 2,200 people.