BANGKOK - At least 10 people were killed and many injured when a bomb exploded Monday outside a popular religious shrine in Bangkok, scattering body parts and debris across the city's commercial core.
The blast hit at around 6:30 pm when the streetside shrine was packed with worshippers and tourists - although it was not possible immediately to confirm if foreigners were among the casualties.
"As far as I know there are more than 10 people dead, many injured. Our initial findings are it is a bomb inside the shrine," national police chief Chakthip Chijinda told Channel 9 television. "We are checking to see if there is a second bomb."
There were media reports later of a second device being defused in the area but no immediate official confirmation.
Glass was strewn across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the central Chidlom district, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Charred and shattered motorcycles littered the scene, along with hunks of concrete from the shrine, with pools of blood on the pavement and bodies covered by white sheets.
"It was a bomb, I think it was inside a motorcycle... it was very big, look at the bodies," one rescue volunteer, who did not want to be named, told AFP.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, suspicion was likely to fall on the kingdom's rival political factions.
Thailand has been seared by a near-decade of political violence that has left the country deeply divided and seen repeated rounds of deadly street protests and bombings - but none on Monday's scale.
Many observers had predicted a fresh round of violence after the military seized power in a coup in May last year, toppling a civilian government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.
Thailand's defence minister said the bombers had targeted "foreigners" to try to damage the tourist industry, which is a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy.
"It was a TNT bomb... the people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," said Prawit Wongsuwong, a former general who is believed to have been one of the key coup-makers.
Self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Yingluck's brother and who was toppled by a 2006 coup, sits at the heart of the political divide.
Parties led by him or his sister or supporters have won every election since 2001 thanks to the votes of the rural north and northeast. But he is loathed by the Bangkok-based royalist elite.
Thailand is also fighting a festering insurgency in its Muslim-majority southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia. More than 6,400 people - mostly civilians - have been killed there.
In the so-called Deep South, bombs are a near-daily reality alongside shootings and ambushes of security forces.
Civilians are overwhelmingly the target, but the conflict which sees local rebels calling for greater autonomy from the Thai state has stayed highly localised.
There has never been a confirmed attack by the insurgents outside the southern region despite the years of war.
The Erawan is an enormously popular shrine to the Hindu god Brahma but is visited by thousands of Buddhist devotees every day.
It is located on a traffic-choked intersection in Bangkok's commercial hub and surrounded by three major shopping malls.