Thai authorities are looking for a suspect in the southern car bombing

HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — Police said Wednesday they were trying to identify the suspect in a bombing at a police house that killed one policeman and wounded 45 others in a region of southern Thailand that has been wracked by a Muslim separatist insurgency for nearly two decades.

Police said the suspect drove a black pickup truck into the complex and then exited after parking the vehicle. In the images captured by a surveillance camera, he was dressed to look like a plainclothes police officer. The injured victims were mostly civilians, including three children.

Since the insurgency began in 2004, more than 7,300 people have been killed in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, the only Muslim-majority provinces in Buddhist Thailand. Attacks also occurred in neighboring Songkhla province. Several separate rebel groups are active, some of which are engaged in ongoing, renewed peace talks with the government.

Muslim residents, almost all ethnic Malays, have long charged that they are treated as second-class citizens in Thailand, and separatist movements have been active periodically for decades. Harsh crackdowns have fueled discontent.

In August, a wave of arson and bombings hit the three southernmost provinces, mostly targeting convenience stores and gas stations. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which injured three people.

Tuesday’s attack on police residences was the second this year to use a car bomb, following an attack in Patani in June that injured a police officer. However, there have been about 60 car bombings since 2005, according to police.

National Police Chief General Damrongsak Kitiprapas said forensic experts believe the explosive device was made from a 50-kilogram (110-pound) gas cylinder.

The bombing was condemned by Human Rights Watch, which said it “appeared to be aimed at causing the greatest possible civilian loss,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement.

“Those responsible for planning, ordering or carrying out such attacks should be brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said, adding that it has repeatedly condemned both the Thai government and rebel forces for their abuses during during their match.

“Thai authorities should thoroughly and impartially investigate the apartment complex bombing and hold all those responsible accountable,” Pearson said. “At the same time, the Thai government should recognize that as long as Thai security forces can commit impunity against ethnic Malay Muslims, armed separatist groups will take advantage of this to justify unlawful attacks.”

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