BANGKOK: Thailand’s police chief yesterday insisted his officers were making “a lot of progress” in the hunt for the Bangkok shrine bomber despite the lack of arrests and mystery over the attackers’ motives. Monday’s blast killed 20 people, mostly Asian visitors, leaving police scrambling to find the assailants and sending shockwaves through the nation’s vital tourism sector.
Speaking after a memorial for the dead at the scene of the unprecedented attack on Thailand, national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said the bomb was an attempt to stoke fear and uncertainty in the capital. “The aim is to discredit the government and create a climate of fear to deter tourists,” he told reporters.
But he defended the handling of the case despite days of confusing and sometimes contradictory statements from senior police and junta officials. “There’s a lot of progress (in the case), but I can’t disclose everything,” he said, adding that a reward for information leading to the arrest of those behind the bomb had been tripled to three million baht ($84,000).
Police are convinced the attack was planned and co-ordinated by a network. But there is still one prime suspect-a bespectacled man in a yellow t-shirt described in his arrest warrant as a foreigner. Thailand has asked Interpol for help in finding the man, who was captured on CCTV calmly placing a backpack under a bench at the Hindu Erawan shrine minutes before the blast.
“I want to reaffirm that the bomb exploded from the backpack which was placed by the bench by the suspect,” national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters. “But we cannot disclose the footage because it is too gruesome,” he said. It is not known if the suspect has already fled the country, while authorities have also openly questioned whether he could be half-Thai or a Thai wearing a disguise.
With rumours swirling, Prawut also denied media reports police were hunting for a man with an Islamic name. “We don’t have his (the suspect’s) name… and even if I did why would I tell you?” he said. But he has previously said they are looking to speak to a woman in a black top seen on the CCTV footage at the shrine.
Backtracking and caveating
Both the police and junta have at various times ruled out the possibility that a global terror network carried out Monday’s bombing, but have later appeared to backtrack or add caveats to their comments. Internal politics, insurgents in Thailand’s south, global terror networks and even private disputes have all come under the microscope as police game the likely perpetrators.
Thai media outlets had also cast suspicion on militants from China’s Uighur community, a group that faces cultural and religious repression. The Erawan shrine is enormously popular among ethnic Chinese visitors from across Asia, but the junta has said tourists from China were not the target.
Thailand has endured a decade of political unrest, but many analysts say that the choice of target and ferocity of the attack makes it highly unlikely any Thai groups with a history of violence were involved. Meanwhile there have so far been no public links made to Muslim rebels from the country’s southernmost provinces, where an insurgency has killed more than 6,400 people, mostly civilians-nor have there been any claims of responsibility.
Two other suspects-a Thai man visiting the shrine and his Chinese friend-who attracted suspicion after being seen on security camera footage near the main suspect were ruled out as accomplices Thursday. Bangkok on Friday remembered the dead after a week which has brought shock and dread.
A multi-faith memorial near the shrine Friday drew together religious leaders from Thailand’s Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities. Catholic cleric Monsigneur Andrew Wissanu Thanya-Anan urged unity in the face of the attack. “Even dogs have ethics when they fight. Not these people (the attackers). It has caused terrible hurt to all Thai people, all religions,” he told AFP. Doves were released at the shrine yesterday. – AFP