Attackers hurled explosives and opened fire on an Islamic school in southern Thailand, killing three students and sparking a riot by angry Muslim villagers, officials said Sunday.
Seven students also were wounded in the Saturday evening attack in Songkhla province which police blamed on Islamic insurgents.
Villagers, however, refused to believe Muslims were behind the violence.
More than 500 protesters gathered outside the school, carrying the dead children's bodies through the crowd and setting fire to two buildings at a nearby government-owned school. Some hurled stones at police.
The attack occurred at the Bamrungsart Pondok school, a Muslim boarding school in the Sabayoi district of Songkhla province, said police Col. Thammasak Wasaksiri.
Attackers hurled explosives and sprayed dozens of bullets into a dormitory where about 75 boys were sleeping, Thammasak said.
A 12-year-old boy and two 14 year olds were killed, he said.
The wounded students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, were being treated for gun shot wounds and other injuries, Thammasak said.
Police believe that Muslim insurgents staged the attack in an attempt to convince villagers that authorities were responsible — a ploy to win villagers over to the insurgents' cause, Thammasak said.
"Insurgents always use this trick of attacking Muslim people to instigate villagers and get them to believe that police or soldiers were responsible for the attack," he said, adding that villagers were not convinced. "The villagers are accusing paratroopers of attacking the school."
Thailand's southern Muslim provinces have hundreds of religious Islamic schools, some of which authorities have accused of harboring insurgents and serving as a training ground for violence.
Lt. Gen. Virote Baucharoon, the army commander in charge of the restive provinces, said security forces had recently raided an Islamic school and confiscated an M-16 assault rifle, bullets, a computer with suspicious material on the hard drive and other documents believed to be linked to the insurgency.
"This leads us to believe that religious schools are involved with the ongoing violence," he said, adding that he would urge the government to revoke subsidies for the schools or close some of them.
Drive-by shootings and bombings occur almost daily in Thailand's three Muslim-majority provinces — Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, and increasingly in the neighboring province of Songkhla.
Though Buddhist teachers have been targeted by the violence, schoolchildren have largely been spared.
Violence in the south has increased since a military-installed government took power in September following a coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thailand was stunned by a cold-blooded attack last week in which suspected insurgents ambushed a commuter van in Yala province and killed eight passengers, shooting them in the head execution-style.
The incident, which occurred Wednesday, was followed that evening by a bombing at a mosque and a grenade attack at a tea shop that killed two Muslim civilians.
Thailand's military imposed a curfew in two Yala districts on Thursday. Army spokesman Col. Akara Thiprot said it was the first time the military has imposed a curfew in the region since January 2004, when a resurgent Islamic separatist movement began a violent offensive that has resulted in more than 2,000 deaths.