BANGKOK • A Thai soldier gunned down at least 17 people in an attack which he shared about on Facebook, emergency services said yesterday, in a mass shooting which focused on a town centre mall.
The attack in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima began late in the afternoon at an army barracks, police told Agence France-Press (AFP). Three people were killed - among them at least one soldier - when Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma opened fire.
"He stole an army vehicle and drove into the town centre," said Lieutenant-Colonel Mongkol Kuptasiri.
Local media reported the gunman seized weapons from the army arsenal before embarking on the shooting spree in the centre of the town.
In the fast-moving incident, the authorities could not confirm local media reports that the gunman had taken up to 16 hostages. At least 17 people were killed and 21 wounded in the shooting, police spokesman Krissana Phathanacharoen said in a message sent to reporters.
Videos and photos circulating online relayed panicked scenes on a main road in the city - which is better known as Korat.
People fled while at least one fire raged as what appeared to be the sound of automatic gunfire filled the air.
The gunman also posted photos of himself and wrote several posts on his Facebook page including "should I surrender" and "no one can escape death".
In one Facebook video - since deleted - the assailant, wearing an army helmet, filmed from an open jeep saying, "I'm tired... I can't pull my finger any more", and made a trigger symbol with his hand.
There were also photos of a man in a ski mask holding up a pistol.
"The gunman used a machine gun and shot innocent victims resulting in many injured and dead," the Mr Krissana told AFP, adding that the standing toll was "more than 10".
The Defence Ministry said forces have sealed off the Terminal 21 shopping centre but have yet to capture the suspect.
Facebook said it had removed the attacker's account and would remove any content related to the attack that violated its policies.
"Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this tragedy in Thailand. 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," a Facebook representative said in a statement.
"We have removed the gunman's accounts from our services and will work around the clock to remove any violating content related to this attack as soon as we become aware of it."
Thailand has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world but mass shootings by soldiers targeting civilians are rare.
Several shootings at courthouses late last year also renewed concern about gun violence in the South-east Asia country.
In one high-profile case, a two-year-old boy was among three people killed in Thailand when a masked gunman robbed a jewellery shop last month.
Late last year, two lawyers were shot dead by a clerk at a court in the east of the country during a hearing over a land dispute.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS