The Bangkok Post reports that just before 3:00 pm on 9 May 2017, insurgents triggered a two stage bombing, which included a car bomb, at the Big C department store in Pattani town. The blasts wounded at least 61. Scores of the victims were women and children as they were buying school supplies for the new academic semester, reports The Nation. National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda says intelligence received a warning about the bomb an hour before hand, but because of unexplained bureaucratic red tape, security forces did not prevent the attack. Authorities blamed the bombing on the BRN insurgent group (Barisan Revolusi Nasional,) or a splinter faction of it, or rogue local BRN commanders.
The terrorists first detonated a small device at 2:50 pm (other reports say 2:30 pm) 100 meters in front of the store’s main entrance where the parking lot meets the main highway, Nong Chik Road.
Alert Big C security guards locked down the building immediately after the first blast. They also noticed, as did several shoppers, a pickup truck suspiciously parked too close to the main entrance of the store, so they ushered shoppers to the rear of the building. Minutes later, the main device in the pickup truck exploded.
Blast damage from the main device was severe. Photographs from The Nation show heavy destruction to the façade of the store and the interior of the building that was closest to the seat of the blast. Steel ceiling beams were mangled, multitudes of parked motorbikes were destroyed, glass windows were completely shattered, and fires dotted the property. Concrete load bearing columns, on the other hand, appeared structurally sound.
Big C officials estimated full cleanup and repairs would take at least four weeks. Initial financial damage estimates were $869,817, but remodeling, lost business, and increased security costs could send this figure to over $1 million.
The police investigation into the bombing quickly revealed that the owner of the pickup truck, a canvas worker, was lured to the Ban Mai village mosque (Nong Chik district, Pattani) under the pretense of setting up a tent. Instead, insurgents abducted, tortured, and then executed the man. The bombers then used the victim’s photo ID and truck to access the Big C’s parking lot, which is tightly monitored by CCTV. At least one of the bombers’ faces was captured on CCTV, which helped speed the investigation along.
Regarding the bombs, investigators ascertained that the first device’s explosive compound was gunpowder. It was a timed device, encased in a blue plastic container, and powered by 1.5 and 9-volt batteries, says the Bangkok Post.
Police say the pickup truck bomb was encased in two cooking gas cylinders, one 4 kg, and one 15 kg. Investigators also found a radio-controlled detonation device and a timer. The explosive compound appears to have been gunpowder. It seems that a flammable liquid in a yellow petrol type container was attached to the bomb. Steel rod fragments were also discovered. The entire device weighed approximately 100 kgs.
Police detained at least six suspects within 24 hours of the blasts, and they estimated there might have been 18 people involved. An Islamic schoolteacher and a Tambon Administrative Organization official (sub-regional administrator) were among those questioned. It is not clear if these two had a role in the attack, or if they were witnesses.
Authorities say the bombers in this case were part of the same group that had carried out similar attacks in the area, including the bombing of the Southern View Hotel and scores of tourist sites in mid-southern Thailand in August 2016. Muir Analytics covered these attacks here, here, and here.
The accused killer of the canvas worker was supposed to be a reformed insurgent who participated in the “Bring People Home” amnesty-program, which is now under review, said Army Colonel Peerawach Saengthong.
A major Muslim organization in Thailand, the Sheikhul Islam Office, published an open letter condemning the attack.
There are seven takeaways here. First, the two stage bombing, colloquially known as a “double tap,” is a popular and effective tactic of the southern Thai insurgency (and other insurgent/terrorist groups around the globe.) Other notable occasions where the Thai insurgents have used this tactic include, but are not limited to:
- The Southern View Hotel, Pattani, 23 August 2016
- The CS Pattani Hotel, Pattani, 17 March 2008
- The Marina and Riviera Hotels, Narathiwat, 31 December 2007 (New Years Eve)
Second, the insurgency has attacked Big Cs before – including the Pattani Big C – indicating that they are standard on the movement’s target list. Attacking them reaps sensational headlines. Past Big C attacks include:
- September 2006, Hat Yai
- August 2005, Pattani
- March 2012, Pattani
Third, this bombing was meant to kill as many civilians as possible. The small device was meant to draw people out of the store, either as spectators to the scene of the small blast, or as panicked shoppers fleeing the violence. The main device was positioned in a prearranged killing zone and was meant to slice through a crowd. The large size of this device, the flammable liquid, and the severe blast damage done to the store all reinforce the intention of causing a massive kill.
Fourth, the desired mass kill here and the torture/murder of the canvas worker signify anger, rage, bloodlust, and dehumanization of civilians. The group that harbors this psychosis has a taste for killing and will continue until stopped by security forces.
Fifth, the professionalism and cool headedness of the Big C’s security staff kept at least 20 civilians from being killed outright and perhaps 40 or more from being severely wounded.
Sixth, while no counterinsurgency initiatives proceed flawlessly, the breakdown in the intelligence-police chain of command highlighted by National Police Chief Chakthip and the defects in the “Bring People Home” program highlighted by Army Colonel Peerawach indicate weaknesses in some of the government’s counterinsurgency efforts. Whereas amnesty programs are complex, and ill meaning actors will occasionally penetrate them, the intelligence-police chain of command, after 13+ years of warfare, should be operating more efficiently.
Finally, this bombing is but one more example of increasingly audacious attacks on civilian targets, and more can be expected. The presumed responsible party, the BRN or one of its splinters/rogue elements, has seemingly grown weary of its insurgency efforts of setting up a shadow government and engaging in “armed politics” at the local and provincial levels. After over a decade of warfare, it has not produced the desired end goal of secession and statehood. Lashing out against the population via audacious terrorist tactics, or “violent communication,” is this group’s solution to the impasse. This is a strategy used by ISIS as well.
Sources and further reading:
“Pattani Big C store delays reopening,” The Nation, 16 May 2017.
“Big C suspects named,” The Nation, 13 May 2017.
“Army orders rebel vetting,” Bangkok Post, 13 May 2017.
“Vendor brutally killed for truck used as car bomb,” Bangkok Post, 11 May 2017.
“18 suspects in car-bombing of Big C,” Bangkok Post, 11 May 2017.
“Local leaders arrested in Big C car bombing,” Bangkok Post, 11 May 2017.
“Dozens injured in Pattani double bomb blasts,” The Nation, 10 May 2017.
“Pattani bomb blasts leave scores hurt,” Bangkok Post, 10 May 2017.
“Pattani bombers identified,” Bangkok Post, 10 May 2017.
“Bombs at Big C in Pattani injure 56,” Bangkok Post, 9 May 2017.
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