Suspected Muslim insurgents have staged the most deadly coordinated attacks in years in Thailand's restive south, killing 14 people and injuring 340 with car bombs that targeted Saturday shoppers and a high-rise hotel frequented by foreign tourists.
A first batch of explosives planted inside a parked lorry ripped through an area of restaurants and shops in a busy area of Yala city, a main commercial hub of Thailand's restive southern provinces, said district police chief Col Kritsada Kaewchandee.
About 20 minutes later, just as onlookers gathered at the blast site, a second car bomb exploded, causing the majority of casualties. Eleven people were killed and 110 were wounded by the blasts.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in Thailand's three southernmost provinces - Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala - since an Islamist insurgency flared in January 2004.
"This is the worst attack in the past few years," said Col Pramote Promin, deputy spokesman of a regional security agency. "The suspected insurgents were targeting people's lives. They (chose) a bustling commercial area, so they wanted to harm people."
Most attacks are small-scale bombings or drive-by shootings that target soldiers, police and symbols of authority, but suspected insurgents have also staged large attacks in commercial areas.
A blast also occurred at a high-rise hotel in the city of Hat Yai, in the nearby province of Songkhla. Officials had initially attributed that blast to a gas leak, saying it was unrelated to the attacks blamed on insurgents. But after inspecting the hotel's underground parking lot, authorities found a severely damaged sedan and a hole created by the explosion's impact.
The explosion at the 405-room Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel, where throngs of Malaysian and Singaporean tourists spend their weekends, killed three people and caused about 230 injuries, mostly from smoke inhalation, said police Lt Puwadon Wiriyawarangkun.
Regional police chief Lt Gen Jakthip Chaijinda said the Hat Yai incident "is likely related to what happened in Yala and might have been plotted by the same group of insurgents".
Police said the blast that occurred at the underground level of the hotel ripped the building's cooking gas pipeline, causing a fire that sent smoke spiralling into the upper floors and trapping many people in their rooms until rescuers came. One of the fatalities was identified as a Malaysian tourist.