South Thailand bomb attack kills 6, Muslim rebels blamed

A bomb attack killed at least six people today in Sai Buri in Pattani province in the south of Thailand, where separatists bomb attacks are frequent. Here, Thai bomb squad members attend the scene of a car bomb blast in nearby Yala province, on March 31, 2012.

A bomb exploded in a crowded shopping area in the south of Thailand today, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more, Agence France Presse reported. 

The attack began when three gunmen opened fire in Sai Buri town center, an army spokesman said. They waited for Thai security forces to arrive and then detonated a car bomb hidden nearby, AFP reported.

More than 40 people were wounded in the explosion and resulting fire, 19 of them seriously, a public health official told AFP.

The attack follows threats against local business owners who open their stores on Friday, the Muslim holy day, according to the Associated Press. Over the past two weeks, authorities said, stores have received flyers warning them to stay closed.

More from GlobalPost: Southern Thailand divided by years-long insurgency (VIDEO)

The bomb may also have been linked to the surrender of nearly 100 suspected Muslim separatist rebels last week, Thai army spokesman Colonel Pramote Prom-in told AFP.

The bombing suspects are known to the authorities and have carried out other attacks before, he said.

Sai Buri is in Pattani province, one of Thailand's three predominantly Muslim provinces. All three are in the south, near the Thailand-Malaysia border, an area that has seen years of violence as rebels fight for independence from the rest of the mainly Buddhist country.

Shootings and bombings have been an almost daily occurrence since 2004, according to GlobalPost correspondent Mark Oltmanns. More than 5,000 people are estimated to have died in the violence.

Thai security forces have also been accused of human rights abuses as part of their sometimes heavy-handed approach to crushing the insurgency, he says.

Watch Oltmanns' video report, including exclusive interviews with soldiers responsible for defusing insurgents' bombs: