BANGKOK • The man Thai police believe masterminded last month's deadly Bangkok bombing fled to Bangladesh the day before the attack and travelled on a Chinese passport, according to officials.
The man emerged as a key figure in the Aug 17 bombing following interrogation this week of one of two foreigners being held, who police say admitted to giving a backpack with explosives to a man they are certain was the bomber.
The suspect told police a man called "Izan" played a lead role and assigned responsibilities to other plotters during a Bangkok meeting.
"This man called Izan - and I don't know if this is his real name - is a very important person in this network," deputy police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said yesterday.
"I don't know what his nationality is... Let's just say Izan is one of the foremost wanted individuals."
He said police would be coordinating with their Bangladeshi counterparts in the investigation.
Investigators yesterday gave their most detailed account of how the alleged network of bombers coordinated the attack, including through drop-offs and WhatsApp text messages.
They said a key suspect handed the backpack bomb to a man in a yellow T-shirt, who was later seen placing it at a shrine moments before it detonated. The blast left 20 people dead in the heart of Bangkok and rocked Thailand's tourist industry.
One of the two men in custody, Yusufu Mieraili, was detained last week near the border with Cambodia and has since been quizzed by military and police investigators.
Mieraili, 25, who was holding a Chinese passport when he was caught, has admitted to playing a central role in the operation, according to police. He was taken yesterday on a second re-enactment of his alleged role in the crime.
"This is the area where he met the man in a yellow shirt to pass the backpack," national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters outside a Bangkok railway station. He added that Mieraili received orders via WhatsApp.
Mr Prawut revealed that Mieraili, whose hands were bound while he wore a bulletproof vest during the re-enactment, left a "heavy backpack" with the bomber outside the station - a 30-minute walk from the crime scene.
That man was seen on security footage apparently placing the same bag at the shrine and calmly walking off just before the blast.
After making the exchange, Mieraili was ordered to wait near the shrine to take photos of the aftermath of the bomb, Mr Prawut said.
But when he got there, his view was blocked by a pillar, so he left.
Police have not revealed Mieraili's nationality, although the birthplace on the passport he was found with is listed as Xinjiang - home to China's Muslim Uighur minority and often hit by unrest. Thailand deported scores of Uighurs to China earlier this year, prompting protests in Turkey where some nationalists support the Uighurs.
Mr Prawut said police believed Mieraili's passport was genuine and that he is known to have studied chemistry and medical science, but he declined to say where.
In later comments Thailand's police chief admitted that Mieraili had illegally entered Thailand multiple times through a border crossing with Cambodia.
"I cannot ignore this problem because I feel ashamed," General Somyot Poompanmoung said, calling for government help to clamp down on corrupt border officials.
A second man identified as Adem Karadag was caught before Mieraili in a flat in a Bangkok suburb with bomb-making paraphernalia and dozens of fake Turkish passports.
Arrest warrants are out for 10 others, including two people believed to be in Turkey.