Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of ASTV-Manager Daily, yesterday survived an assassination attempt after two gunmen in a pickup sprayed his car with bullets.
The incident, which injured Sondhi and two others, took place amid the emergency rule that has been imposed on the greater Bangkok area since Sunday.
The assassination bid further complicates the political conflict involving pro- and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra camps.
Sondhi, a core leader of the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy, underwent a two-hour operation in Vajira Hospital to repair a skull fracture and remove a blood clot in his brain before being transferred to Chulalongkorn Hospital.
Adul Daengpradab, Sondhi's driver, regained consciousness but remained under close medical supervision after undergoing a five-hour operation in Mission Hospital for injuries to his brain, chest and right arm.
Wayuphak Mangkhalasin, an aide to Sondhi, sustained minor injuries and cuts and also received treatment at Mission Hospital.
Various news reports indicated a fourth passenger was in Sondhi's car, a woman said to be his secretary, but no independent confirmation of this account was immediately available.
Metropolitan police chief Lt-General Worapong Chewpreecha theorised the attempt on Sondhi's life could be either politically or personally motivated. He said he could not yet determine whether the two gunmen were military.
"They could be civilians with intensive firearms training," he added.
The shooting took place at around 5.40am while Sondhi's vehicle - a luxury Toyota van - was travelling on Samsen Road near the Bang Khun Phrom intersection. A golden-bronze Isuzu pickup that was following abruptly drove past the van on the left, and two men in the pickup's bed sprayed Sondhi's car with automatic rifle fire for around five minutes before the truck sped off. There were no reports as to whether the gunmen got out of the pickup to fire their weapons.
Apart from 84 spent cartridges from three types of automatic rifles found at the scene, police also found a dud M79 grenade on Bus No 30, which was travelling in the reverse lane. No police theory as to whether that was meant to hit Sondhi's car or fired at the bus to create a diversion was immediately available.
Initial crime-scene reports said the M79 failed to explode because the firing range was too close. Found at the scene were 64 cartridges fired from an AK-47, 17 from an HK33 and three from an M16.
Four surveillance cameras at the scene, operated by traffic police, had been out of order since 1.30pm on Thursday, but two others operated by the city administration captured images of the two vehicles heading towards the scene of the incident, with the pickup trailing Sondhi's vehicle.
Sondhi was on his way to his ASTV-Manager Daily office on Phra Arthit Road in nearby Bang Lamphu area to record a live "Good Morning, Thailand" television programme and audio broadcast.
Dr Chaiwan Jaroenchokethawee, a senior official at Vajira Hospital, said Sondhi should fully recover within five days. He said that small bullet fragments had fractured Sondhi's skull, resulting in minor injuries and bleeding in his brain.
Sondhi, Adul and Wayuphak have all been transferred to Chulalongkorn Hospital.