Who set the bombs? The mystery can only deepen
As residents of the City of Angels pick up the pieces after the string of deadly bombings that killed three and injured nearly 40, casting a grim shadow over New Year festivities, speculation has been rife at to who the perpetrators were.
Whoever was behind it has succeeded in sending a brutal shock wave throughout the country that has been enduring not only the daily insurgent killings in the deep South, but also the post-coup political turbulence, commonly referred to as the "undercurrent".
The first series of six near-simultaneous blasts struck at random locations across Bangkok at around 6pm. The last two came at around midnight. At least nine foreign visitors were injured in the last two explosions. Casualties as of last night were three dead and 43 injured.
While Muslim militants in the predominantly Malay-speaking South were not entirely free from suspicion, most of the fingers pointed to the September 19 coup as the likely catalyst for the deadly bombings.
The same forces have also been suspected of torching some 30 public schools in the North and the Northeast. Authorities believe the arson attacks were part of the "undercurrent".
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday domestic politics rather than the Muslim insurgency was behind the bombings.
"From the evidence we have gathered, there is only a slim chance it is related to the southern insurgency. It is likely related to people who lost their political benefits," Surayud told a press conference, alluding to the ousted regime of Thaksin Shinawatra.
He described the attackers as "ill-intentioned people" looking to inflict "political damage" on the country.
"The kind of bombs used, the places they picked, and the timing show their intention was to cause panic and fear," Surayud said.
On top of the list of those who lost out from the coup were obviously Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party members, including former premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.
In keeping with his reputation of jumping ship when things get too hot, Chavalit had first supported the September 19 coup but quickly became a turncoat when none of his associates got any positions in the new government or state enterprises. Most of the portfolios were given to supporters of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, and of premier Surayud.
International terrorism is low on the list of suspicions. Global terrorist attacks in recent years have tended to cause great physical damage and the targets are usually high-profile places. The warning by way of the first of the six blasts, not to mention its small size, essentially rule out this possibility.
Separatism and insurgency in the South also did not figure highly in the deliberations of the security community as officials pointed to the nature of the militants' tactics in the restive region. While explosive ingredients for the bombs are more or less the same, as they can be purchased in just about any hardware store, militants in the deep South tend to carry out their bombings on the roadside, followed by a brief gunfight.
Bombs in the South have often been placed in public places, normally targeting restaurants and eateries frequented by security personnel and officials. The attack in downtown Pattani last May that ripped through a teashop frequented by police officers and the Unimog military transport vehicle in front of it was a case in point.
Though the bombs in Bangkok were quite small in size and weight, one cannot deny the symbolism and timing of the acts - the last hours of the last day of the year when tens of thousands of revellers were getting ready to party the night away.
The psychological cost was tremendous and the political cost could be just as brutal. If the police fail to close this case in a timely manner, the Council for National Security (CNS) will undoubtedly bear the brunt of the blame.
It's an open secret that there is some opposition to the plans of the CNS to carry out a structural reform of the police force. Any reform would take away a lot of the powers of the police.
Police General Ajiravid Subarnbhesaj said all eight bombs were placed in 3x5-inch boxes and detonated by digital alarm clock. The most interesting part was that traces of M4 high explosive booster were found in all of the bombs.
The fact that M4, officially a controlled item, was found to have been used lent weight to the theory that the bomb attacks may have been an inside job - either rogue military or a police clique looking to discredit the junta and the current administration.
For the time being, nothing has been totally ruled out. The "undercurrent" theory is quickly gaining momentum. And if this turns out to be the case, Bangkok could become a battle ground for power.
Revellers will have to keep their fingers crossed and hope next New Year's Eve will turn out differently.