BANGKOK • Thai police have said an arrest warrant has been issued for an ethnic "Uighur" man over last month's deadly Bangkok blast, for the first time identifying a suspect as a member of the Chinese minority group.
The announcement follows weeks of speculation over the motive and perpetrators of the unclaimed attack which killed 20 people, the majority ethnic Chinese visitors, at a religious shrine in the capital's bustling downtown district on Aug 17.
Analysts had increasingly pointed to a link with the mostly Muslim Uighur minority from north-western China's Xinjiang region but Thai police had up until now refused to reveal any such links.
"He is Uighur according to his passport," national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said yesterday, after the authorities released a photo of the moustached and short-haired suspect identified as Abudusataer Abudureheman or "Ishan", 27, of Uighur ethnicity and Chinese nationality.
The Thai authorities are already holding two foreign men in custody over the attack. Lieutenant-General Prawut said the suspect, who left Thailand a day before the blast and is wanted on the charge of "jointly possessing illegal military supplies", belonged to the criminal network that police believe is responsible, but he was "not the mastermind" of the attack.
But in a statement released yesterday, Thai immigration police said: "According to security agencies, Ishan is the one who plotted, ordered and funded the attack."
The statement also refers to the arrest warrant for Ishan, mentioning his Uighur ethnicity.
The hunt for the perpetrators of the bomb blast has been characterised by confusing and, at times, contradictory statements from officials.
Police later yesterday appeared to backtrack on Ishan's ethnicity, releasing a new photo of him without it mentioned and a request asking the media "to drop the word Uighur".
Uighurs have long accused Beijing of religious and cultural repression, with scores believed to have fled in recent years, often heading to Turkey via South-east Asia.
Thailand's deportation of 109 Uighur refugees to China in July sparked violent protests in Turkey, where nationalist hardliners see the minority as part of a global Turkic-speaking family.
The warrant issued yesterday is the 12th over the unprecedented attack on the Thai capital.
One of the detained suspects, Yusufu Mieraili, was arrested last month with a Chinese passport registering his birthplace as Xinjiang - the region home to some 10 million of the Uighur minority. But police did not confirm his ethnicity or nationality.
The other detained suspect, Adem Karadag, was arrested at a Bangkok flat in possession of bomb-making material and scores of fake Turkish passports.
On Thursday, Bangladesh police said a Bangkok blast suspect had arrived in Bangladesh on Aug 16 before flying out to Beijing on Aug 30.
But local Thai media reports have said the suspect flew on to Turkey, rather than China.