Death toll stands at 26 after sergeant major killed commanding officer then attacked Terminal 21 complex in Nkhon Ratchasim city
A soldier who shot dead 26 people has been killed by police following an overnight siege at a Thai shopping mall.
Eight people were held hostage by the gunman in the city of Nkhon Ratchasim, according to sources quoted by Reuters. Dozens more were trapped for hours on Saturday night as police attempted to regain control of the seven-floor building.
One police officer was killed during the raid, it was confirmed. “He had been hit and unfortunately he couldn’t make it,” said Anutin Charnvirakul, Thailand’s health minister.
Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantrawanich, a defence ministry spokesman, named the gunman as Jakrapanth Thomma, who held the rank of sergeant major. According to Associated Press, officials said he was angry about a financial dispute.
The attack began late on Saturday afternoon when the gunman fired at people at an army barracks, killing the commanding officer of the 22nd Ammunition Battalion, in which the suspect also served. Thomma, who livestreamed the attacks on social media, stole military guns, ammunition and a vehicle before driving to the city centre and shooting at people both inside and around the Terminal 21 shopping centre. “I can’t run away because I don’t know where the shooter is. I am here with about 20 people,” one man, who called himself Mr Green, told the Thai state broadcaster MCOT on Saturday from inside the mall.
Another woman, Ms Uam, said she hid with 30 people inside a storage room, where they stayed for around six hours with the lights turned off. “All of us switched off our phones. No one posted anything on social media,” she told Thairath TV. She was later able to flee at around 11pm local time.
Footage taken in the early hours of Sunday morning showed crowds of people, some carrying children, running out of the shopping centre as the police secured parts of the mall. Renewed gunfire was heard within the building, where the gunman was hiding on the lower ground floor.
The Thai prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said on Sunday morning that another 52 people had been wounded. The soldier was motivated by a grudge over a land deal in which he felt he had been cheated, said Prayuth, who travelled to Nakhon Ratchasima to visit wounded survivors. Thomma reportedly also shot at a Buddhist temple before opening fire at Terminal 21.
Nattaya Nganiem and her family were leaving the mall at the time. “First I saw a woman run out from the mall hysterically,” said Nattaya, who shot video of the scene on her phone. “Then a motorcycle rider in front of her just ran and left his motorcycle there,” she added.
Footage apparently taken inside the mall during the attack showed people running from stalls to take cover. “It was about 5pm that I heard the gunfire,” added Uam. “Then a crowd started running. I could see it clearly because I was in front of the mall. I saw him shooting and I saw him moving in front of the parking lot where he later took [a] selfie that he posted on Facebook.”
CCTV images showed the gunman walking through an empty section of the mall carrying a rifle and dressed in his soldier’s uniform.
“We were scared and ran to hide in toilets,” said Sumana Jeerawattanasuk, one of those rescued by police. She said seven or eight people hid in the same room as her.
“I am so glad. I was so scared of getting hurt,” she said.
In videos taken by eyewitnesses on the main road outside of the shopping centre, the sound of repeated gunfire could be heard. During the attack the gunman posted images and videos to his Facebook page, which was later removed.Faceboook said in a statement: “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.”
The city of Nkhon Ratchasim, also known as Korat, is more than 155 miles (250km) from Bangkok.
Thailand has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world but such attacks are rare outside of the far south where an insurgency has continued for decades.