A bomb on a motorcycle exploded on Monday just outside a Hindu shrine in the center of the Thai capital, killing at least 12 people in an attack the government said was aimed at destroying the economy and the tourism industry.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast just outside the Erawan shrine at a major intersection.
Thai forces are fighting a low-level Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist country’s south, but those rebels have rarely launched attacks outside their ethnic Malay heartland.
“The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district,” Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters.
The Erawan shrine, on a busy corner near top hotels, shopping centers, offices and a hospital, is a major tourist attraction, especially for visitors from East Asia. Many ordinary Thais also worship there.
The government would set up a “war room” to coordinate the response to the blast, the Nation television channel quoted Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as saying.
Police said the bomb had killed 12 people and wounded 78, many of whom were taken to the nearby police hospital.
A Reuters witness at the blast site said she saw pieces of human flesh there, and a soldier later told onlookers to move back, saying they were checking for a second bomb.
“We are now looking for another two to three bombs as we have found one suspicious object,” national police chief Prawut Thawornsiri told Reuters.
“There could be another explosion, so we have blocked off the crime scene and are asking bystanders to move back.”
After the blast, authorities stepped up security checks at some major city intersections and in tourist areas.
While initial suspicion might fall on Muslim separatists in the south, Thailand has been riven for a decade by an intense and sometimes violent struggle for power between political factions in Bangkok.
Occasional small blasts have been blamed on one side or the other. Two pipe bombs exploded outside a luxury shopping mall in the same area in February, but caused little damage.
Police said that attack was aimed at raising tension when the city was under martial law.
The army has ruled Thailand since May 2014, when it ousted an elected government after months of at times violent anti-government protests.
The shrine intersection was the site of months of anti-government protests in 2010 by supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Dozens were killed in a military crackdown and a shopping center was set ablaze.