NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (Reuters) – A member of the Thai security forces was killed early on Sunday in an attempt to stop a soldier holed up in a shopping mall after a shooting rampage, bringing the total death toll to 21, the health minister said.
Thai security forces evacuate people who were stranded inside the Terminal 21 shopping mall following a gun battle, to try to stop a soldier on a rampage after a mass shooting, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
The killings began at around 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday when the soldier opened fire in a house before moving to an army camp and then to the mall in Nakhon Ratchasima in northeastern Thailand, posting messages on Facebook as he went.
Early on Sunday, gunfire broke out at the mall as security forces tried to dislodge the soldier, identified by police as 32-year-old Jakrapanth Thomma.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters at the scene that one member of the security forces was killed and two wounded in the raid. As he spoke, a series of explosions and further shooting echoed from the Terminal 21 mall.
“We are doing our best. You can see that all our senior officers of the government have been assigned here,” Anutin told reporters. “All steps are being taken with precautions so that we can minimize the damage as much as we can.”
He would not answer questions about the security operation or the number of people who might be inside. More than 30 people have been wounded.
Police closed off streets around the mall and kept journalists behind a security cordon. One military officer said the gunman was holed up in the mall’s basement. He did not give his name as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Thai media said the suspected shooter had worked at an army base close to Nakhon Ratchasima, which is about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Bangkok. Before the attack, Jakrapanth had posted on his Facebook account that he was out for vengeance — but he did not say for what.
‘IT APPEARS HE WENT MAD’
“We don’t know why he did this. It appears he went mad,” Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit told Reuters.
It was unclear how many shoppers and workers remained inside the shopping mall after soldiers and police had earlier escorted hundreds of trapped people to safety, Kongcheep said.
“It was frightening because I could hear the occasional gunshot … we waited a long time for the police to come and help us, many hours.” said Suvanarat Jirattanasakul, 27, her voice trembling after she emerged.
The mall was busy with shoppers on a long weekend for the Buddhist Makha Bucha holiday.
CCTV footage from inside the mall posted on social media showed the gunman dressed in black and wearing a mask, his gun slung over his shoulder with no sign of other people around.
Facebook (FB.O) said it had removed the suspect’s account.
“There is no place on Facebook for people who commit this kind of atrocity, nor do we allow people to praise or support this attack,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.
Major shootings are rare in the Southeast Asian country other than in the far south, where a decades-old insurgency persists.
Nakhon Ratchasima is one of the biggest cities in northeastern Thailand, an island of relative prosperity in a rice growing area that is one of the poorest parts of the country of 69 million people.
Additional reporting by Athit Perawongmetha and Jiraporn Kuhakan in Nakhon Ratchasima, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Writing by Kay Johnson and Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Daniel Wallis