THE AUTHORITIES are convinced that the bomb blast in Koh Samui on Friday night was politically motivated.
Considering the timing and the location - shortly before the Songkran Festival in a popular tourist destination - observers yesterday insisted the attack was aimed at challenging the government.
Meanwhile, security has been beefed up at popular tourist destinations in the South, including Phuket, Hat Yai and Samui after the incident.
Seven people, including a 12-year-old Thai-Italian girl, were injured in the car bomb at the underground parking area of Central Festival department store. All of the wounded were later discharged from hospital with minor injuries.
The spokesman of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) as well as the government's deputy spokesman gave similar statements about the attack yesterday.
NCPO spokesman Winthai Suvari said there were ill-intentioned groups seeking an opportunity to disturb peace and instigate violence. He urged the public to give leads linked to the bomb attack to officials.
Government Deputy Spokesman Pol Major Sansern Kaewkamnerd said initial reports revealed that the people responsible for the car bomb was the same group that had planted a bomb in Bangkok. "Since officials have strictly checked Bangkok, the perpetrators have moved to other areas. Officials have found links that the bombers in Samui were the same group responsible for the bomb in Bangkok. We are tracking down traces from the scene,'' Sansern said.
Isoc spokesman Colonel Banpot Poonpian said a brown pickup with Yala licence plate number 4892, which was stolen while it was parked at Tambon La Ae Administrative Organisation in Yala on March 31, was used in the bomb attack.
"There have been no intelligence reports about the insurgency spreading out of the deep South. But there is a possibility that the perpetrators were southern insurgents or natives of southern border provinces who have expertise in assembling car bombs and were hired with the same motivation as in the case of the bomb blast on Soi Ramkhamhaeng 43/1 in Bangkok,'' Banpot said.
The people responsible for the attack will face terrorism charges or the charge of pre-meditated murder and making a bomb with the intention to harm lives and assets, Banpot said. They will face the maximum punishment as stipulated by the law.
Abdulraseh Dumedae, 52, driver of the stolen pickup used in the bomb in Samui, has been interrogated. He gave no useful information but confusing statements, police said. Pol Maj-General Thanongsak Wangsupa, of Yala Provincial Police Headquarters, said the driver reported the theft two hours after the car was stolen, so it was too late to track down the culprits.
Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said he believed the Samui car bomb was the work of anti-government groups and had nothing to do with the southern insurgency because the insurgents had never shown inclination to operate outside the deep South.
"The culprits focused on a tourism place. They want to demonstrate their power,'' he said.
Politician Thaworn Senneam, who is a leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, said he believed the attack was the work of someone who wanted to cause problems for the government and the country's economy at a time when Thailand needs more tourist money to help boost the economic recovery.
Pheu Thai Party politician Worachai Hema said he believed the attack was aimed to discredit the government after it imposed Article 44 to keep peace and order. "This attack has affected tourism and business confidence because Samui is the heart of tourism in the South,'' he said.
Central Pattana Plc, which runs the Samui shopping mall, said in it letter to the media yesterday that the Songkran events to be held at Central Festival will continue as planned. Senior executive Nattakit Tangpoonsinthana said no serious damage had been found on the building after the explosion, so it would be mostly re-opened from today. Central Pattana said security had been increased at the mall and others run by the group.
In Phuket, security has been stepped up in tourism spots and department stores, especially Central Festival and the airport, after reports that cars stolen from southern border provinces would be moved to Phuket tomorrow, Phuket Governor Nisit Chansomwong said.
First Army Region commander Lt-General Kampanart Ruddit said he had ordered officials to strictly check all checkpoints in Bangkok, especially at spots famous for Songkran revellers such as Silom and Khao San roads.
In Songkhla, joint police, soldier and volunteer teams have increased security at seven spots in Hat Yai district.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry said Songkran events on Samui would go ahead as planned despite the bomb. Samui and nearby islands are expected to attract over 82,000 tourists.