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.
Video taken outside the mall showed people diving for cover as shots rang out. Many were killed outside the mall, some in cars, others while walking.
Nattaya Nganiem and her family had just finished eating and were driving away when she heard gunfire.
“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.”
Hundreds of people were evacuated from the mall in small batches by police while they searched for the gunman.
“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.
Shortly before midnight, police announced they had secured the above-ground portion of the mall, but were still searching for the shooter. About 16 hours later, officials held a news conference outside the mall to announce the gunman was fatally shot.
Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep told Thai media that the first person killed was the commanding officer of the 22nd Ammunition Battalion, in which the suspect also served. He said the gunman had fired at others at his base and took guns and ammunition before fleeing in an army Humvee.
City and neighbourhood police officers said the man fired shots as he drove to the mall. Thai Rath television aired mall security camera footage showing a man with what appeared to be an assault rifle.
The man also posted updates to his Facebook page during the rampage.
“No one can escape death,” read one post. Another asked, “Should I give up?” In a later post, he wrote, “I have stopped already.”
A photo circulated on social media that appeared to be taken from the Facebook page shows a man wearing a green camouflaged military helmet while a fireball and black smoke rage behind him.