ATM bomber sets off with loot

First theft of kind in Thailand, police say

An explosive ordnance disposal officer examines the wreckage of a Bangkok Bank ATM machine on Soi Krungthep Kreetha 35 in Bangkok's Saphan Sung district after it was blown up by a bomb detonated by a lone robber who fled with more than 300,000 baht in cash. Patipat Janthong

A "powerful" C-4 bomb terrified residents in east Bangkok early yesterday as a lone robber took just five minutes to blast open a Bangkok Bank ATM machine before fleeing on a motorbike with 314,000 baht in cash, in what police said was the first such theft of its kind.

"This is the first time a bomb has been used in an ATM heist in Thailand," Metropolitan Po­lice Bureau (MPB) commissioner Sanit Mahathavorn said.

The blast took place at 3.20am in front of a Tesco Lotus Express store in Soi Krungthep Kreetha 35 in Saphan Sung district, police said.

CCTV footage showed the perpetrator to be a heavyset man. The machine contained 400,000 baht and the man stole 314,000 baht, with the remainder strewn around the machine, police said.

In describing the impact of the plastic explosives used they said anyone within a 25-metre radius of the ATM could have been severely injured. Parts of the ATM were found 30m from where it originally stood, police said.

Police, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officers, forensic officials and rescue workers were dispatched to the scene and the area was declared off-limits to the public so that evidence could be collected.

Thieves have resorted to devious means to make off with loot from ATMs in the past but never bombs. Records show that tools used in previous robberies include a gas-fuelled cutting machine and a truck -- to wrench the machine from its moorings.

Given the amateurish nature of the robbery, Pol Lt Gen Sanit said the suspect is not believed to be a professional thief.

Shortly after the blast, he attended an urgently convened meeting with the investigative team dispatched to handle the case.

He said no suspects have been identified yet. All potential witnesses, including security guards, employees at a nearby bank and local residents, will be summoned for questioning.

Police will expedite efforts to track down the suspect, who will also be charged with possessing unauthorised explosives and causing an explosion in a public area, he added.

A preliminary inspection of traces of soot found on the machine and the supermarket wall showed the bomb was made from C-4 and weighed 200 grammes, said Kamthorn Ouicharoen, deputy chief of the Patrol and Special Operation Division (PSOD).

The bomb was set on a timer and had a blast radius of 25m, said Pol Col Kamthorn, who also serves as chief of the EOD team.

It was relatively simple to assemble and differs from bombs used in recent blasts in the capital, such as those at Phramongkutklao Hospital and the old Government Lottery Office on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, he said.

Those attacks were politically motivated but there is nothing to suggest the perpetrator had any political grievance or is affiliated with insurgents in the deep South, he added.

After visiting the crime scene yesterday, acting Tourist Police Bureau deputy chief Surachet Hakphan described the bomb as "powerful" and said the man must have at least a moderate degree of bomb-making skill.

While the man's motive is unclear there is no evidence suggesting it was anything other than a cash heist, Pol Maj Gen Surachet said.

The bomb looks like it was placed behind the ATM and right of centre according to cracks and holes found in an adjacent wall belonging to a convenience store, said Pol Col Alongkorn Sirisongkram, the police chief for Prawet district.

Thongthiew Chuenkham, 58, a security guard at Siam Warin Shipping International Company, told police he heard the blast while patrolling outside at around 3am.

As he approached, he saw the ATM was on fire and a man in a black outfit and a white crash helmet took off on a Black Honda Click with no licence plate, he said.

The suspect drove along Krungthep Kreetha Road heading to Srinakarin Road, he added. The fire was doused by another security guard.

Pollawat Yaibua, 23, who lives in a dormitory nearby, said he saw the burning ATM through a window in his room after hearing "a loud bang".

He said he saw a man dragging a metal box from the ATM machine. Mr Pollawat said he left his dorm and tried to pursue the man, but the suspect sped off.

First Army commander Apirat Kongsompong asked the media and public yesterday not to assume the incident was in anyway politically motivated.

Police are now looking at CCTV footage and speaking to witnesses, he said.

Their report will be forwarded to the army chief and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, he added.

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