PATTANI, Thailand (AP) — Suspected insurgents detonated a car bomb Tuesday outside a busy shopping center in southern Thailand, wounding more than 50 people in a huge blast that ripped the building apart and sent people running for their lives.
The attackers initially set off a small bomb outside the mall before triggering explosives planted in a pickup truck at the shopping center's entrance in the city of Pattani, said police Capt. Preecha Prachumchai, who was investigating the blast. The military had earlier said the initial blast was firecrackers.
The explosion occurred at a Big C shopping center, a major grocery and retail chain. Thai television stations aired footage showing a huge black plume of smoke rising skyward from the blackened building as rescue workers doused the flames and soldiers stood by.
Pattani Hospital posted on its board of emergency room patients late Tuesday that 52 people had been injured. No deaths have been reported.
Human Rights Watch released a statement Wednesday saying 61 people had been injured, including children. The rights group also said the pickup truck driver was missing.
"The double bombing of a crowded shopping mall shows a vicious disregard for civilian lives," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Big C attack has all the hallmarks of separatist violence, attacks targeting civilians that may be crimes against humanity."
Muslim separatists have waged a bloody insurgency for years in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, the only ones with Muslim majorities in the predominantly Buddhist country. More than 6,500 people have been killed since 2004.