Bombing rocks tourist area in Bangkok, 22 dead & scores injured

Destroyed motorbikes are pictured at the scene of devastation after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 © Aidan Jones
A bomb has exploded in a commercial and tourist center in Thailand's capital Bangkok, killing at least 22 people, according to authorities. Over 120 others were injured, local media reported. At least eight foreigners were among those killed.

According to the latest information provided by the Royal Thai Police Office, 12 of the 22 victims died at the scene of the attack. 

Rumors about the introduction of a state of emergency were denied by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who called the blast the “worst ever attack” on the kingdom, attributing them to an “anti-government group based in Thailand’s north-east.”

Officials say the attack was aimed at destroying Thailand's economy and tourism. Police initially said the explosion involved a motorcycle bomb.

"The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district," Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said.

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Foreign visitors were present at the time of the blast. Three people from China and one from the Philippines were among the dead, a police officer told Reuters. Many of those injured are from China and Taiwan. 

The explosion took place at the Ratchaprasong intersection near Erawan shrine, a tourist attraction in the downtown Chidlom district.

"I heard a boom. I thought it was thunder...but then on Twitter people were saying that something ominous had happened," said a Periscope user who was streaming video live from the scene.

Body parts were scattered throughout the street following the blast, which went off at around 7:00pm local time.

"There were bodies everywhere. Some were shredded. There were legs where heads were supposed to be. It was horrific," Marko Cunningham, a New Zealand paramedic working with a Bangkok ambulance service, told Reuters. 

Photos showed fire and clouds of smoke, along with smashed car windows and debris littering the streets.

Police have also recovered an electronic circuit, suspected to be part of the original device, about 30 meters from the blast scene, according to the Bangkok Post.

Nearby offices in the area, which is a busy business district, were reportedly evacuated, according to reports on social media.

Erawan is a Hindu shrine which is visited by thousands of people every day. Located on a main road, the shrine is surrounded by three major shopping malls and is popular among both tourists and locals.

Suspect captured on CCTV, manhunt underway

No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, and such violence in the capital is a rarity. However, authorities have already determined preliminary suspects, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan announced.

“It is much clearer who the bombers are, but I can’t reveal [who] right now,” Wongsuwan said. “We have suspects. There are not many people.”

Meanwhile, the Thai PM said that at least one of the suspects was captured by a CCTV camera near the blast site. The minister also claimed that authorities had no prior intelligence on the attack before the blast.

While the Thai governmenthas beens battling a low-level Muslim insurgency in the country's predominantly Buddhist south, rebels rarely launch attacks outside of their ethnic Malay heartland. Thai military officials have also said that the attack did not match insurgents’ regular tactics.

“This does not match with incidents in southern Thailand. The type of bomb used is also not in keeping with the south,” Royal Thai Army chief and deputy defence minister General Udomdej Sitabutr said in a televised interview.

As a measure to reassure tourists of Thailand's safety, authorities set up barricades next to the affected neighborhoods and policemen increased road vigilance and conducted trunk searches before letting people pass into the area.

Police said that the attack aimed to raise tensions as the country was being run under martial law until April. The army has ruled Thailand since May 2014, when it ousted the elected government after months of anti-government protests.