Bangkok: A Thai soldier remained holed up in a shopping mall Saturday after gunning down at least 17 people, emergency services said, in an attack relayed through Facebook posts.
The attack in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima began late in the afternoon at an army barracks, police told 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,” police Lieutenant-Colonel Mongkol Kuptasiri.
Local media reported the gunman seized weapons from the army arsenal before embarking on a shooting spree in the centre of the town.
In a fast-moving incident, authorities could not confirm local media reports the gunman had taken up to 16 hostages.
There were “17 deaths, 14 wounded” late Saturday, said an unnamed spokesperson from Bangkok’s Erawan Center — the dispatch centre for emergency services across the country.
Video 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 roared and 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 anymore” and making 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,” spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen 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.
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 Southeast 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.