Bangkok blast: Police hunt for accomplices of main suspect

A composite picture taken from security camera and released by the Thai Royal Police showing a suspect foreigner who Thai police believes to be involved with the bomb attack.
A composite picture taken from security camera and released by the Thai Royal Police showing a suspect foreigner who Thai police believes to be involved with the bomb attack. PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thai authorities said on Wednesday that they were looking for accomplices of the chief suspect for the Bangkok shrine bomb blast who was caught on closed-circuit television (CCTV) dumping a backpack and walking away.

"We suspect he is the bomber," national police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said, referring to the man in a yellow T-shirt in a grainy video that has gone viral on social media.

"We are also looking for other suspects in connection with the blast. These types of attacks are not usually planned by one person alone," he added.

The government said Monday evening's attack at the popular Erawan shrine in the heart of Bangkok was aimed at wrecking the economy, which depends heavily on tourism.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed 22 - nearly half of them foreigners - and wounded more than 120.

Jangling nerves in the city on Tuesday, a small explosive was thrown from a bridge towards a river pier, sending a plume of water into the air, but no one was hurt.

A spokesman for the government, Werachon Sukhontapatipak, said there were "patterns" between the two bombs in that both used TNT but no link had been established as yet.

The footage of the young man with shaggy dark hair shows him entering the shrine compound with a backpack on, sitting down against a railing and then slipping out of the bag's straps.

He then stands up and walks out apparently holding a mobile phone, leaving the bag by the fence as tourists mill about.

National police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang said the suspect could be Thai or foreigner, though domestic media reports on Wednesday said he was not Thai.

Police have not ruled out any group, including elements opposed to the military government, for the attack, though they say it did not match the tactics of Muslim insurgents in the south or 'red shirt' supporters of the previous administration.

"The attack did not bear the hallmarks of either southern Muslim separatists or red-shirt militants," said Angel Rabasa, an expert on Islamist militancy at the RAND Corporation. "Both groups have carried out terrorist attacks in the past, but not on this scale in terms of loss of life."

Police said they were considering the possibility that ethnic Uighurs were behind the bombing.

Thailand forcibly returned 109 Uighurs to China last month.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of members of the Turkic-speaking and largely Muslim minority have fled unrest in China's western Xinjiang region, where hundreds of people have been killed, prompting a crackdown by Chinese authorities. Many Uighurs have travelled through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

The blast comes at a sensitive time for Thailand, which has been riven for a decade by a sometimes-violent struggle for power between political factions in Bangkok.

A parliament hand-picked by a junta that seized power in a 2014 coup is due to vote on a draft constitution next month. Critics say the draft is undemocratic and intended to help the army secure power and curb the influence of elected politicians.