Thai soldier kills at least 17 in mass shooting
- The shooting spree in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima began late in the afternoon at an army barracks.
- Chaotic scenes, relayed through social media, showed people fleeing while at least one fire roared and what appeared to be the sound of automatic gunfire filled the air.
- In a fast-moving incident, authorities would not confirm local media reports that the gunman had taken hostages.
A Thai soldier remained holed up in a shopping mall late Saturday after gunning down at least 17 people, in an attack on a normally sedate town centre relayed through Facebook posts.
The shooting spree in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima began late in the afternoon at an army barracks.
Three people were killed -- among them at least one soldier -- when Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma opened fire, police said.
"He stole an army vehicle and drove into the town centre," police Lieutenant-Colonel Mongkol Kuptasiri.
There the gunman used weapons stolen from the army arsenal - including a machine gun - to bring carnage to a town centre.
There were "17 deaths, 14 wounded" by late Saturday, an unnamed spokesperson from the national hotline for emergency services across the country told AFP - a death toll later confirmed by a police spokesman.
"The gunman used a machine gun and shot innocent victims resulting in many injured and dead," spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen said.
He urged the public and media not to share any information that could jeopardise the safety of anyone trapped inside.
Earlier, chaotic scenes, relayed through social media, showed people fleeing while at least one fire roared and what appeared to be the sound of automatic gunfire filled the air.
The gunman also posted images of himself and wrote several posts on his Facebook page as the attack unfolded 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.
A Facebook spokesperson said "we have removed the gunman's accounts from our services and will work around the clock to remove any violating content related to this attack as soon as we become aware of it".
In a fast-moving incident, authorities would not confirm local media reports that the gunman had taken hostages.
But a witness who was inside the mall before the attack told AFP the shopping centre was thronging with shoppers on a long weekend.
"There were loads of people at the mall today," a 32-year-old from the city said, requesting anonymity.
"I was pretty shocked when I found out because I just left the mall not long before."
Street lights below the shopping centre were switched off as army and police units sealed off the Terminal 21 mall.
The city - better known as Korat - is home to one of Thailand's largest barracks in a country where the military is enmeshed in politics and society.
Thailand has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world.
Several shootings at courthouses late last year renewed concern about gun violence in the Southeast Asian country.
In another 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.