Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — A manhunt is underway for a Thai soldier accused of killing at least 20 people in a shooting spree that began at a military site and then sent shoppers hunting for cover after the suspect entered a mall, authorities told CNN.
“We can’t confirm if there are any hostages taken. But we believe he (the shooter) is still holding inside Terminal 21 shopping mall. We are working on this,” Lt. Gen. Thanya Kiatsarn on Saturday told CNN from the scene.
“At the moment we are trying to capture the guy,” police spokesman Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen said. “Both police and military forces have been deployed to the area.”
Hours after the rampage began, heavily armed officers led some people out of the mall, images posted to social media showed.
Police and someone believed to be the suspected gunman could be heard yelling at one another amid bursts of gunfire on video posted to social media. CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of this video.
The shooting happened in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, known as Korat.
Jon Fielding, an English teacher who lives in the area, told CNN that he was in the mall with a friend when people started running and shouting in panic.
“Everybody was running into the shops and restaurants and barricading the doors,” he said, adding that word spread of a mass shooting. “Everyone was really panicking. Everyone was looking through the glass trying to see what was happening exactly.”
Fielding said he was with a group of about 20 people who sought shelter in a dark kitchen in the back of a restaurant for five hours. He said the mall was packed and hundreds of people were trapped for hours before being evacuated.
“It’s a huge mall, really busy,” he said. “There must have been thousands of people in the mall.”
“Please be calm, find a safe place to hide and mute your mobile phones,” the nation’s Crime Suppression Division, part of the Thai police, tweeted to those stuck inside the mall, advising them to send their locations, the number of people with them and contact numbers to the police.
“A combined force of police and military has started their operation to evacuate people who have been stuck inside the building,” defense ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich said in a statement, adding that officers were doing their best to control the situation.
Thailand’s main telecommunications body reportedly has urged Thai broadcasters not to broadcast live footage from near the mall to avoid hindering security efforts.