Bangkok blast: Red shirts lash out at police chief over link to domestic political conflicts

Military personnel and police officers standing guard before a crime re-enactment near the bomb site at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sept 26, 2015.
Military personnel and police officers standing guard before a crime re-enactment near the bomb site at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sept 26, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A conclusion reached by the police concerning the prime suspect in the deadly Erawan Shrine blast and the implication that domestic political conflicts may have been behind the attack were vehemently questioned on Tuesday (Sept 29), while the country's police chief seemed to back off from the latter assertion.

Two core "red-shirt" leaders, Mr Nuttawut Saikuar and Mr Worachai Hema lashed out at national police chief Somyot Poompanmuang's statement that pointed the finger at a Thai suspect, Yongyut Pobkaew, who is believed to be linked to the red-shirt movement.

General Somyot alleged at a press conference on Monday that Yongyut - also known as Aod Payungwong, one of 17 suspects wanted in connection with the Aug 17 explosion at the shrine - was involved in explosions when demonstrators protested in 2010 against the Abhisit government, and last year against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration.

"I want to call for the national police chief to tell the truth to the public. I don't know Mr Aod but his name suddenly popped up out of nowhere. No one said how he got involved in the case. The public also wonders how can Mr Aod who was under several arrest warrants has no history or even a 13-digit identity card," Mr Nuttawut said.

The former Pheu Thai MP criticised Gen Somyot for voicing what those in power want him to say. He said police should consider what would happen to Thailand if they evaluate the situation; and if the problem was not solved, no one could guarantee it would not happen again.

Gen Somyot should be more careful when speaking as the reds did not want problems with police. However, he said if the direction of the case went like this, the reds would certainly be affected.

Mr Worachai Hema said: "The red-shirt movement has nothing to do with the deadly blast, contrary to what the national police chief has tried to say. I do not understand why the police chief tried to link the reds to the attack. Maybe he was trying to say something in line with this government's repeated claim that politics is behind the attack."

He did not know who "Mr Aod" was. "It is not possible that politics is behind the blast," he said.

Gen Somyot said on Monday: "We can not rule out political motives, because Aod was also involved."

Mr Worachai said all political groups - whether red or yellow - and the military were Thais and would not do anything aimed at taking people's lives.

Gen Somyot on Tuesday looked to back off from his claim that a political motive may have been behind the attack, saying that the motive would remain unclear until Aod was arrested.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Bilal Mohammed, the prime suspect in the shrine blast, yesterday remained adamant that his client was just a job-seeker hoping to find work in Malaysia.

Mr Chuchart Khanphai also expressed doubt about the police chief's conclusion that Bilal was the bomber - known as the "yellow-shirt suspect" - captured on security-camera footage entering the shrine with a backpack, but leaving without it minutes before the deadly explosion on Aug 17.

Bilal was the first suspect arrested in connection with the bombing, when he was taken from a flat in Bangkok on Aug 29, but it was only on Monday that the police claimed he was the man in the yellow shirt.

Based on security-camera footage, police claimed he had changed from wearing a yellow T-shirt to a grey T-shirt in a restroom in Lumpini Park during his escape after the explosion. Police also claimed on Monday that a grey T-shirt had been found in Bilal's room.

But Mr Chuchart said a grey shirt had not previously been mentioned in the list of items found in the room.

"I will have an opportunity to talk with my client today at 8.30am about the case and if he really confessed to police, I want to know why and how," he said.