A Thai soldier who killed a minimum of 26 people before being shot dead during a mall by commandos went on the rampage due to a debt dispute, the kingdom’s premier said Sunday, offering the primary official speculation for the motive of an “unprecedented” shooting spree.
After an evening which seesawed between heavy exchanges of gunfire and terrifying dashes for mall exits by trapped shoppers, sharp-shooters brought an end to the 17-hour-ordeal once they killed the gunman on Sunday morning in Nakhon Ratchasima, also referred to as Korat.
Twenty-six people including civilians — the youngest a 13-year-old boy — and security forces were killed by the rogue soldier, Thailand’s prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said.
“It is unprecedented in Thailand, and that i want this to be the last time this crisis happens,” he said outside a hospital where victims, including a minimum of two undergoing operation , were being treated.
Prayut, a gruff former army chief, blamed a “personal problem” over the sale of the house for the soldier’s rampage, which began on Saturday afternoon near a military barracks and was for several hours relayed by the gunman via Facebook posts.
The attacker, a junior military officer identified as Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma, used a stolen M60 machine gun, rifles and ammunition from one among Thailand’s largest barracks also as a military humvee to hold out the attack.
Prayut said he overpowered security at the barracks’ arsenal.
“This wasn’t carelessness. we do not leave the arsenal depot alone — we had people guarding it.”
Most of the dead were killed in an round the mall.
Volleys of gunfire rang out because the siege saw dawn, hours after Thai security services stormed the bottom floor and freed many stunned, terrified shoppers from a bloody rampage.
Frightened shoppers sent cascades of messages to friends and family on social media from cupboards, toilets and under tables because the gunman stalked the mall.
Shocked evacuees recounted how a standard Saturday at the busy plaza descended into horror because the gunman entered, sparking an hours long ordeal.
“It was sort of a dream… I’m grateful I survived,” Sottiyanee Unchalee, 48, told AFP, explaining she hid within the toilet of a gym inside the mall as she heard the gunfire.
A Filipina teacher Aldrin Baliquing said he was ushered into a storeroom by staff because the shooting began.
“We were there for 6 gruelling hours… I’m in shock,” she said.
Scores of people made a touch for it as police and soldiers in masks and wielding assault rifles took control of the bottom floor following a gun battle and scoured the fleeing crowds for the assailant.
Hours later he was shot dead. Photos showed smiling elite units of soldiers and police emerging from the mall.
Purported video from the scene — shared on social media — showed snipers in webbing on elevated walkways, aiming their rifles downwards as heavy gunfire echoed across a concourse below.
The gunman relayed his shooting spree through Facebook posts which charted the attack from a military barracks to the town mall.
Despite the prime minister’s speculation Jakrapanth’s exact motive remained unclear as Korat — a sedate and mid-size town — tried to digest the size of the atrocity.
The bloodshed began Saturday afternoon when he shot three people — among them a minimum of one soldier — at a senior officer’s house then at the nearby army barracks, before driving a vehicle to the town centre.
There the gunman used the stolen weapons to unleash carnage within the town centre.
Throughout the day, he posted images of himself and wrote several posts on his Facebook page because the attack unfolded.
In one Facebook video — since deleted — the assailant, wearing a military helmet, filmed from an open-top jeep, saying, “I’m tired… i can not pull my finger anymore” as he made a trigger symbol together with his hand.
There were also photos of a person during a face mask holding up a pistol.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We have removed the gunman’s accounts from our services and can work round the clock to get rid of any violating content associated with this attack as soon as we become conscious of it.”
The city is home to at least one of the most important barracks in Thailand, a rustic where the military is enmeshed in politics and society.
The nation also has one among the very best rates of gun ownership within the world, and a number of other shootings at courthouses last year renewed concern about gun violence.