Erawan Shrine Bombing, Religiously Motivated or an Ancillary Attack Against Thailand's Tourism?

The Erawan Shrine, Photo © Kalandrakas
The Erawan Shrine, Photo © Kalandrakas

BANGKOK, Thailand - The brutal terrorist attack on the Bangkok Erawan Shrine, seems to be another in an ever increasing string of violence that is plaguing the world. Unfortunately, terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) have bombarded us with increasingly violent, bizarre, and senseless attacks, and thus less spectacular attacks may seem to lose their news worthiness.

However, the bombing of the Erawan Shrine which has not been attributed to them, was appalling to millions worldwide. This bombing occurred in one of Thailand's busiest tourism spots and at 8 casualties in the initial blast, and another 20 in the second blast twelve hours later the number of victims increased to include 100 injured.

The target of this attack left the critically injured survivors, the citizens of Thailand, and people around the world with a sense of horror that could only be assuaged by prayer.

Erawan Shrine in Bangkok is to Thailand what Times Square in New York is to the United States. It can be surmised that one of the strategic objectives of this attack was to disrupt tourism, a significant driver of Thailand's economy. Bangkok is a premiere travel destination for people from many Western countries, and the Bangkok Shrine is most frequently visited by citizens of China and India. The shine is venerated as having "immense powers" including the ability to bless visitors with "riches". It is also a shrine dedicated to Brahma, a Hindu god which is worshiped by Indian Hindus, but is also revered by some Chinese Buddhists.

The government hasn't ruled out terrorism; however, it is believed that the bomb attacks were coordinated and that one or more suspects may be from the anti-government group known as the "Yellow Shirts."  This group was formed as part of a movement called the "People's Alliance for Democracy" in reaction to a corrupt billionaire named Thaksin Shinawatra. A successful businessman turned politician in 1994, he later became prime minister in 2001. Initially viewed as a philanthropist, Shinawatra launched programs to reduce poverty, instituted programs designed to help small businesses, as well as legislating universal healthcare coverage.

But, after declaring a "war on drugs" and selling billions of shares of his company to foreign investors without paying taxes, Thaksin critics denounced him, even going so far as to call him a dictator.

An article on The Guardian pointed out the similarities between this attack and the 10 January 2014 incident in which two bombs were detonated minutes apart by anti-government protesters who sought the ouster ofthen Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. But, though this group were suspected in this attack, as in the case of the Erawan conclusive evidence has not been found to identify the perpetrators.

It is suspected that the true motives of these bombing were to disrupt Thailand's tourism industry and frighten and discourage foreigners from visiting the country. While the "who did this" and the "why" are still a blur, the "what, when, and how did it happen"are very clear. Despite this, as with other governments facing similar external and domestic terrorism, the Thai government led by the current prime minister have responded quickly and appropriately, but have been understandably cautious in not making a rush to judgement. The focus has been and continues to be the capture and bringing to justice the culprits.

Contributing Journalist: @toritorinicole