Rush-hour Bangkok bombing at busy shrine kills 18, hurts 117

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'As Many as a Dozen' Feared Dead in Bangkok

BANGKOK (AP) -- A bomb exploded Monday within a central Bangkok shrine that is among the city's most popular tourist spots, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100 across a hectic intersection surrounded by five-star hotels and upscale shopping malls.

With a powerful flash caught on security video and a boom heard blocks away, the blast from the improvised explosive device scattered body parts across Rachaprasong intersection, spattered blood, blasted windows and burned motorbikes to the metal. It exploded during evening rush hour as the area was filled with tourists, office workers and shoppers.

"Suddenly there was a big boom, and the whole room just shook, like someone dropped a wrecking ball on top of our ceiling," said Pim Niyomwan, an English instructor working on the eighth floor of the building right next to the shrine. "The whole building just shook. My four students were hysterical."

Images from the explosion site:

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Rush-hour Bangkok bombing at busy shrine kills 18, hurts 117
Police examine debris in front of the Erawan Shrine at Rajprasong intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, as investigations continue the morning after an explosion. Police combed through shattered glass and other debris Tuesday from a bomb blast in central Bangkok, trying to determine who set off the most devastating single attack in the capital's recent history. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Investigators walk towards the Erawan Shrine at Rajprasong intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, the morning after an explosion. Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday promised that authorities would quickly track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing, which he described as the country's worst attack ever. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
An investigator works near the statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai interpretation of the Hindu god Brahma, at the Erawan Shrine at Rajprasong intersection the day after an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday promised that authorities would quickly track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing which he described as the country's worst attack ever. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
This combination of images taken from video on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, and provided by MGTV shows people walking on an elevated skywalk as an explosion occurred in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's prime minister has promised to track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing which he described as the country's worst attack in history. (MGTV via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Police and soldiers wash the street in front of the Erawan Shrine at Rajprasong intersection the day after an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday promised that authorities would quickly track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing which he described as the country's worst attack ever. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Workers clean up the area around the statue of Phra Phrom, center, which is the Thai interpretation of the Hindu god Brahma, at the Erawan Shrine the day after an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday promised that authorities would quickly track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing which he described as the country's worst attack ever. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
The Erawan Shrine, right, and Rajprasong intersection remains closed in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, as investigations continue the morning after an explosion. Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday promised that authorities would quickly track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing which he described as the country's worst attack ever. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Soldiers move onlookers back from the shattered windows of a Louis Vuitton shop at Gaysorn shopping plaza across from the Erawan Shrine at Rajprasong intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, as investigations continue the morning after an explosion. Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday promised that authorities would quickly track down those responsible for the central Bangkok bombing, which he described as the country's worst attack ever. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Police use a magnetic tool as they examine debris in front of the Erawan Shrine at Rajprasong intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, as investigations continue the morning after an explosion. Police combed through shattered glass and other debris Tuesday from a bomb blast in central Bangkok, trying to determine who set off the most devastating single attack in the capital's recent history. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
This Aug. 17, 2015, image, released by Royal Thai Police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri shows a man wearing a yellow T-shirt near the Erawan Shrine before an explosion occurred in Bangkok, Thailand. Prawut said he believes the man is a suspect in the blast that killed a number of people at a shrine in downtown Bangkok on Monday night. (Royal Thai Police via AP)
This image released by the Royal Thai Police on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, shows a detailed sketch of the main suspect in a bombing that killed a number of people at the Erawan shrine in downtown Bangkok, on Monday. Thailand's national police chief said Wednesday that a deadly bombing at a central Bangkok shrine was carried out by "a network," as investigators focused on a man seen in a grainy security video leaving a backpack behind just 20 minutes before the explosion. The message above the sketch says "Criminal record registration department." (Royal Thai Police via AP)
This Aug. 17, 2015, image, released by Royal Thai Police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri shows a man wearing a yellow T-shirt near the Erawan Shrine before an explosion occurred in Bangkok, Thailand. Prawut said he believes the man is a suspect in the blast that killed a number of people at a shrine in downtown Bangkok on Monday night. (Royal Thai Police via AP)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 19: The Erawan Shrine seen from the BTS walkway on August 19, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. On Monday evening Bangkok was hit by what has been described as Thailand's worst ever attack. Security across the country has been stepped up following the explosion which went off near a popular tourist site killing at least 20 people and injuring hundreds more. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images)
Police investigate a scene the morning after an explosion in Bangkok,Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. A bomb exploded Monday within a central Bangkok shrine that is among the city's most popular tourist spots, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Police investigate a scene the morning after an explosion in Bangkok,Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. A bomb exploded Monday within a central Bangkok shrine that is among the city's most popular tourist spots, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
A policeman photographs debris from an explosion in central Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Thai rescue workers transport damaged motorcycles from the scene of a bomb blast outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015. At least 16 people were killed and dozens injured when a bomb exploded today outside a religious shrine in a bustling hub of the Thai capital popular with tourists, authorities said. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
In this image taken from AP video, a man talks into a mobile phone after a large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others. (Photo via AP Video)
Motorcycles and debris are strewn across Rajprasong Intersection in front of the Erawan Shrine after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A police officer stands in the middle of Rajprasong Intersection in front of the Erawan Shrine after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 17: Police chief Somyot Poompanmoung is interviewed by the press at the scene of an explosion on August 17, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. A large explosion believed to a bomb has hit central Bangkok this evening with early reports suggesting at least 16 people have died and scores more have been injured. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 17: Policemen check with sniffer dogs at the scene of an explosion on August 17, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. A large explosion believed to a bomb has hit central Bangkok this evening with early reports suggesting at least 16 people have died and scores more have been injured. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 17: A policebooth with shattered windows near the scene of an explosion on August 17, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. A large explosion believed to a bomb has hit central Bangkok this evening with early reports suggesting at least 16 people have died and scores more have been injured. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images)
Motorcycles and debris are strewn across Rajprasong Intersection in front of the Erawan Shrine after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Explosive Ordnance Disposal officers enter the Erawan Shrine after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
Officials close off an intersection after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
Police investigate the scene after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Emergency personnel work at the scene after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
Thai soldiers inspect the scene after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Police investigate the scene at the Erawan Shrine after an explosion in Bangkok,Thailand, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Explosive Ordnance Division officers work at the scene after an explosion at an intersection in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
In this image provided by Mongkol Nunthalikitkun flames burn after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (Mongkol Nunthalikitkun via AP)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 17: A rescue worker walks past the scene of an explosion on August 17, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. A large explosion believed to be from a bomb has happened in central Bangkok this evening with early reports suggesting 12 people have died and at least 20 more have been injured. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images)
Motorcycles and debris lies on the pavement after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
A Thai soldier (R) looks at the damage after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai rescue workers carry an injured person after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Motorcycles are strewn about after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
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Thai police inspect the scene after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Police investigate the scene after an explosion in Bangkok, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. A large explosion rocked a central Bangkok intersection during the evening rush hour, killing a number of people and injuring others, police said. (AP Photo/Sackchai Lalit)
Thai rescue workers transport an injured person after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thai soldier ropes off the scene after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thai rescue workers transport an injured person (C) after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok late on August 17, 2015 killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more. Body parts were scattered across the street after the explosion outside the Erawan Shrine in the downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)
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#ErawanBlast — Police confirmed most of those injured are foreign tourists. #Bangkok
@RichardBarrow @duiwoy one more picture from a friend there #BangkokBombing #Bangkok http://t.co/e7QruuAuI7
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Video shortly after the blast depicts a scene of shock and desperation: people running for their lives and crying amid the debris. An emergency worker in an ambulance, frantically pounding the chest of a victim.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.

"Those who have planted this bomb are cruel," said national police chief Somyot Poompummuang. "They aim to kill because everyone knows that at 7 p.m. the shrine is crowded with Thais and foreigners. Planting a bomb there means they want to see a lot of dead people."

At least 18 people were confirmed dead and 117 injured, according to the Narinthorn emergency medical rescue center. The dead included Chinese and a Filipino, Somyot said.

As a single, devastating blow to this Southeast Asian metropolis, Monday's bombing has no equal in recent history, though Thailand is no stranger to violent attacks. A more-than-decade-long insurgency by southern Muslim separatists has left more than 5,000 dead far from the capital. In Bangkok, politically charged riots centered on this very intersection in 2010 killed more than 90 over two months.

Police said the bomb was made with a pipe wrapped in cloth. Police said it was too soon to determine the motive.

"We still don't know for sure who did this and why," Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters. "We are not sure if it is politically motivated, but they aim to harm our economy and we will hunt them down."

The bomb detonated at Erawan Shrine, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Brahma, but is extremely popular among Thailand's Buddhists as well as Chinese tourists. Although Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, it has enormous Hindu influence on its religious practices and language.

The shrine, adjacent to a five-star hotel, is at the intersection of two major arteries in the city. Throngs of tourists come there to pray at all hours, lighting incense and offering flowers purchased from rows of stalls set up on the sidewalk along the shrine. The site is a hubbub of activity, with quiet worshippers sometimes flanked by Thai dancers hired by those seeking good fortune, while groups of tourists shuffle in and out.

Bangkok has been relatively peaceful since a military coup ousted a civilian government in May last year after several months of sometimes violent political protests against the previous government. Anusit Kunakorn, secretary of the National Security Council, said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who orchestrated the May 2014 coup, was closely monitoring the situation.

At the same time, the military government has tightly controlled dissent, arresting hundreds of its opponents and banning protests. Tensions have risen in recent months, with the junta making clear that it may not hold elections until 2017 and wants a constitution that will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.

Stirring the pot has been exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. It was his sister Yingluck Shinawatra who was ousted as prime minister last year.

Last week, Thaksin posted a message on YouTube urging his followers to reject the draft constitution because he said it was undemocratic. The draft charter is supposed to be voted on next month by a special National Reform Council. If it passes, it is supposed to go to a public referendum around January.

Another source of recent tension is the annual military promotion list, with the junta's top two leaders - Prime Minister Prayuth and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit - widely believed to be supporting different candidates. The reshuffle, which comes into effect in September, has traditionally been a source of unrest, as different cliques in the army, usually defined by their graduating class in the military academy, seek the most important posts to consolidate their power.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok issued an emergency message for U.S. citizens, advising them to avoid the shrine's area.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby expressed deep sympathy to those affected by the Bangkok explosion. He said authorities were still determining whether any Americans were among the victims.

Tourists reacted with concern.

"We didn't think anything like this could happen in Bangkok," said Holger Siegle, a German who said he and his newly wed wife had chosen Thailand because it seemed safe. "Our honeymoon and our vacation will go on, but with a very unsafe feeling."

While bombings are rare in Bangkok, they are more common where the Muslim separatist insurgency has been flaring: in the country's three Muslim-majority provinces in the deep south.

In March this year, several arrests were made in connection with a grenade that was tossed at Bangkok's Criminal Court. Those detained were apparently sympathizers of the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt movement. Critics of the current military government say some of the bombings may have been carried out by the junta to justify its continued suppression of basic rights and liberties. The government denies that.

In April, a car bomb exploded at a shopping mall on the resort island of Samui, injuring seven people. The motive was unclear, though the government suggested it was linked to politics.

The last major bombings in Bangkok occurred on New Year's Eve at the end of 2006, when a series of bombs at celebrations around town killed at least three people and wounded dozens. Those bombings occurred just three months after a military coup ousted Thaksin, and there was speculation that his supporters carried out the attacks in revenge. However, the bombings were never solved.

The 2006 coup set off a battle for power among Thaksin's supporters and opponents, sometimes in the form of violent protests. Protesters from both sides sometimes faced armed attacks by unknown groups, with more than 90 people killed in 2010 during pro-Thaksin demonstrations that were quashed by the army. The focus of the 2010 protests was the same intersection where Monday's blast took place.

Erawan Shrine itself also has been a scene of violence. In March 2006, a man who smashed the statue of the four-headed Brahma with a hammer. The man, believed to be mentally ill, was lynched by bystanders. A new Brahma statue was installed at the shrine within months.

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