In this April 18, 2011 file photo, Thai police officers examine the site where a bomb exploded in Yala, Thailand. (AP photo/Sumeth pranphet)

HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — Suspected Muslim insurgents set off coordinated bomb blasts as shoppers gathered for lunch Saturday in a busy hub of Thailand’s restive south, killing eight people and wounding 68, officials said.

The casualty count made it one of the largest attacks in months in the troubled southern provinces where smaller-scale violence occurs on an almost daily basis.

Yala Governor Dethrat Simsiri said that the three blasts occurred within a 100-meter (100-yard) radius and minutes apart in Yala city, a main commercial hub of Thailand’s restive southern provinces.

“We are not sure which group of suspected Muslim insurgents were behind this but we are looking,” he said.

The first bomb was hidden inside a motorcycle parked near a shopping area and detonated by a mobile phone at about noon, the governor said. Within minutes, a second bomb hidden in another motorcycle exploded, followed by a third explosion from a device placed in a car that set fire to nearby buildings, he said.

Such bombings are a common tactic of Islamist separatists who have been waging an insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces since early 2004. The violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

The suspected insurgents mainly target soldiers, police and other symbols of authority with roadside bombs and drive-by shootings, but have also staged large coordinated attacks in commercial areas.

Last September, a trio of bombs hidden in vehicles hit a busy section of Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province, killing four people and leaving more than 60 wounded.

Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani are the only Muslim-dominated provinces in the predominantly Buddhist country. Muslims in the area have long complained of discrimination by the central government.

The insurgents have made no public pronouncements but are thought to be fighting for an independent Muslim state. The area used to be an Islamic sultanate until it was annexed by Thailand in the early 20th century.

Separately, a blast occurred at a hotel in the city of Hat Yai, in the nearby province of Songkhla, that officials attributed to a gas leak and said was unrelated to the attacks blamed on insurgents.

Several tourists staying at the Lee Gardens Hotel where the blast took place suffered from smoke inhalation after the midday explosion, which occurred in a Japanese restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel, said police Col. Kittichai Sangkathaworn.

© 2012 The Associated Press.


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