At least six people were killed and more than 40 were wounded Friday after a car bomb exploded in a busy shopping street in Thailand's insurgency-hit south, officials told AFP.
Overwhelmed nurses scrambled to help as casualties poured into the main hospital in Sai Buri town, an AFP reporter at the scene said, describing blood trails smeared across the floor as the bodies of the dead were carried in.
"There are six dead now, three men and three women," a Public Health ministry official said in Bangkok -- a toll confirmed by the local hospital which said five civilians were among the dead.
"Altogether 41 people have been wounded either from shrapnel or burns," she said, adding 19 "seriously injured" people had been ferried to bigger provincial hospitals.
An army spokesman said CCTV footage showed three militants opening fire on shops in Sai Buri town centre shortly after Friday prayers in the Muslim-majority region, to lure security forces to the scene, before detonating the bomb.
A complex insurgency calling for greater autonomy has plagued Thailand's Muslim-majority far south near the border with Malaysia since 2004, claiming more than 5,300 lives, both Buddhist and Muslim, with near daily bomb or gun attacks.
The bomb, which sparked a fire that destroyed several shops, was meant as a warning to locals not to talk with security forces after nearly 100 suspected militants "surrendered" last week, according to Colonel Pramote Prom-in, an army spokesman in the south.
"The perpetrators are the hardcore and do not want a peaceful solution (to the conflict) so they wanted to terrorise residents not to take sides with government," Pramote said.
"We know who they are, they are the same group who incited other unrest incidents," he said, adding security teams were hunting the suspects.
In response to an increase in violence over the summer, authorities in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, said they had renewed peace talks with militant leaders.
"Don't call it negotiations... but there are talks to achieve peace which is a crucial government policy," Yutthasak Sasiprapa, deputy prime minister in charge of national security, said in August.
But the attacks have continued.
Analysts say the lattice of militant groups operating in the lush, forested three southernmost provinces are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to carry out co-ordinated assaults.
Dozens of members of Thailand's security forces have been killed in recent weeks in ambushes and roadside bombs, while civilians perceived to have collaborated with Thai authorities are also routinely executed.
A series of car bombs killed 14 people and injured more than 500 in April in the deadliest attacks to hit the insurgency-torn far south of Thailand in recent years.