A temple dedicated to Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, witnessed scenes of destruction when an improvised explosive device placed on a bench near the shrine went off killing 20 people and injuring 125 others in central Bangkok during evening rush hour Monday, agencies said.
Of the 20 killed, 14 were foreigners — two Hong Kong residents, three Chinese nationals, four Malaysians, two Indonesians, a Singaporean, a Filipino and a Briton– and the rest locals.
Local newspaper Bangkok Post said only three foreigners — two Chinese and one Filipino — died in the blast.
Eight bodies were removed from the shrine. Most of the injured tourists were from Asia.
City police defused two more bombs amid fears more explosives have been planted around the city.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
The carnage took place around 7pm in front of the Erawan Shrine near the Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown Chidlom district of the Thai capital.
The explosion, which sounded like a loud thunderclap, shattered the Rajprasong intersection, a center of many political demonstrations in recent years, and sent panicked people fleeing down the street.
The blast area was littered with debris and pieces of human flesh. A body severed in half was lying on the sidewalk 30 meters from the explosion site.
Charred remains of motorcycles were lying around a crater left behind by the powerful blast.
About 40 vehicles were damaged in the explosion which took place just 20 meters away from the shrine.
Amid the wail of sirens, rescue workers were seen rushing blast victims into ambulances which ferried them to several city hospitals.
Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said: “The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district.”
While expressing condolences to the families of the dead and injured, he said it was too early to say if the attacks were politically motivated.
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 Nation TV channel quoted Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as saying the government would set up a “war room” to coordinate its response.
A BBC journalist described the scene as chaotic adding he saw a fire-blackened crater indicating a bomb blast near the shrine.
Former Bangkok resident Lucinda-Jane Chastain, who was having cocktails in a hotel above the blast site, told Sky News: “The whole building shook. We all ran to the windows. It was quite hard to see what was happening but we could see debris in the street.
“All we can see is a horrible mess on the road. This is at the very heart of Bangkok,” Chastain said.
Richard Sri-kureja, a tourist, told BBC that he was walking to a mall next to the shrine when he heard the blast.
“There was total chaos,” he said. “That area is usually very, very crowded as it’s in the middle of the city and it’s usually very packed. A local hotel is full of injured patients.”
Eric Seldin, an office worker, told dpa: “I was having dinner at the Hyatt Erawan Hotel when a large explosion shook the building. When we were allowed outside 15 minutes later, we saw several bodies covered under white sheets and damage to a nearby shrine.”.
Walaporn Changtam, whose sister had gone to pray at the shrine during the blast, said: “I hope whoever did this, the same happens to them.”
“They’re evil b******s. They can’t call themselves Thai,” Changtam said as she waited to find out if her sister was alive or dead.
A doctor, who declined to be named, said that at least one child was among the dead at Chulalongkorn Hospital, where some of the victims were sent.
“We had seven Chinese nationals among the 25 we treated at the hospital,” the doctor said.
The Erawan shrine is a major tourist attraction, especially for visitors from East Asia. Many ordinary Thais also worship there.