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Thai bombings kill 14, injure 340

HAT YAI, Thailand — Suspected Muslim insurgents 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 pickup truck 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 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 Saturday 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 midday 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.