Thai police probing bombing link to southern violence

FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 file photo, an ambulance is seen on a street after explosions occurred overnight and Friday morning in the tourist city of Hua Hin, Thailand. Thai authorities said Monday, Aug. 15, they are investigating whether bombings last week at several popular tourist destinations were related to long-term separatist violence in the country's far south, backing away from assertions that partisan politics were behind them. (AP Photo/Penny Yi Wang, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 file, investigators work at the scene of an explosion in the resort town of Hua Hin, 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Bangkok, Thailand. Thai authorities said Monday, Aug. 15, they are investigating whether bombings last week at several popular tourist destinations were related to long-term separatist violence in the country's far south, backing away from assertions that partisan politics were behind them. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer, File)

BANGKOK — Thai authorities said Monday they are investigating whether bombings last week at several popular tourist destinations were related to long-term separatist violence in the country's far south, backing away from assertions that partisan politics were behind them.

Police have made no formal arrests in the bomb and arson attacks in seven towns that killed four people and wounded dozens, including several foreign tourists. They told a news conference that several people have been detained by the military for questioning, but declined to provide details. Those detained have been identified in by Thai media as political activists opposed to the country's ruling military junta.

The attackers' tactics have led to speculation that the bombings were carried out by Muslim separatists in Thailand's south who have staged a low-level insurgency since 2004. Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist, but its three southernmost provinces have Muslim majorities.

National police chief Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda acknowledged Monday that there were similarities between the tourist spot bombings and those carried out by the separatists.

"I've always said since the beginning and I've never said anything else, there are similarities in bomb-making methods and the equipment used," he said in response to reporters' questions.

Senior Thai officials suggested strongly soon after the Thursday and Friday attacks at Hua Hin and other holiday spots that they were carried out by political opponents of the military government. The comments suggested the perpetrators were linked to supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup. His supporters and opponents have since then carried out a sometimes-violent struggle for power. The army in 2014 toppled an elected government that had been led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Evidence pointing toward southern militants includes at least one recovered cellphone used as a trigger in last week's bombings that originated in Malaysia, which is on the other side of a porous border from Thailand's southernmost provinces and hosts sympathizers to the separatist cause.

Malaysian police chief Khalif Abu Bakar confirmed that they received details from Thai police and are trying to track the phone's dealer and buyer.

Several new attacks took place Sunday and Monday in two of the deep south provinces where bombings and drive-by shootings have become almost a daily occurrence over the past decade. Three homemade bombs exploded Sunday night in Yala town, causing property damage but no casualties, while roadside bombs detonated Monday morning in Narathiwat province injured two patrolling soldiers.

A pro-Thaksin group, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, on Sunday accused the government of using the investigation of last week's attacks to crack down on its opponents.

"They accuse us of being responsible for the violent acts without any evidence or claim to support the accusations. Their intent is to destroy their competitors so that support would be given to a government that came into power from force," said a statement from the group, also known as the Red Shirts.

Questioned Monday about the group's allegation, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan denied any political bias, and said that "in regards to the finding of the phone and SIM card from Malaysia, we will have to keep investigating because everything has its origins. All the officials have collected all the evidence, just give us some time to work."

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