Bangkok blast: Who could be responsible and other questions

Thai police officers and emergency staff inspecting the blast site at Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok where a bomb was detonated on Aug 17, 2015.
Thai police officers and emergency staff inspecting the blast site at Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok where a bomb was detonated on Aug 17, 2015.EPA

A powerful blast went off during rush hour in Bangkok's central shopping district on Monday evening, killing at least 20 people, including one Singaporean. Thailand's junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha called the bombing at the popular Erawan Shrine the "worst-ever attack" on the kingdom. No group has claimed responsibility so far.

Here's a snapshot of views on key questions raised in the aftermath of the terror attack.


Dr Jeff Moore, chief executive officer of Muir Analytics, which provides terror and insurgency risk assessments for corporations, wrote on The Diplomat website:"One possibility is that this was an anti-government attack organised by radical factions of the 'red shirt' supporters of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was toppled by the ruling junta in a coup last May.

"If so, it would be a surprising escalation. Red-related factions have staged attacks that produced casualties in the past. However, while their arson attacks in Bangkok and other provinces have caused incredible property damage, they have not resulted in high body counts.

"A high-profile and higher-casualty attack like this one could cause the main faction of the reds to lose the moral high ground in the eyes of the Thai public.

"Another explanation is that this was the work of Muslim separatists in the south of the country, who have been waging an insurgency against the government for decades.

"If this was an insurgent attack, it would also represent a major escalation of that conflict. While it is unclear why the insurgents would choose this particular time to escalate, they have struck outside the confines of the insurgency zone before.

"In May 2013, a presumed student faction of the insurgency set off a bomb next to Ramkhamhaeng University. Other insurgent cells attacked Danok and Phuket last year. In keeping with this hypothesis, attacking a popular Buddhist/Hindu shrine is indeed in line with the more radical veins of the southern insurgency.

"Overall, both the reds and the insurgents do have an incentive to pressure the sitting government to accept their demands. Inflicting damage on Thailand's economy, its tourism industry, and the reputation of the ruling government would benefit both groups."


Mr Zachary Abuza, an independent analyst who writes on Southeast Asian politics and security issues, told The Diplomat: "There have been a number of small attacks in Thailand since the coup that has been attributed to radical 'Red Shirt' supporters of the toppled government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. These include a hand grenade attack in front of the Criminal Court in March 2015.

"But this attack was different for a few reasons. First, while other attacks have used low level explosives, Thai police are reporting that the bomb used in the Erawan Shrine attack was three kilograms of TNT - qualitatively different. No other attack was used to cause mass casualties."


Dr Moore wrote in the Diplomat: "Location-wise, the Erawan Shrine is continually filled with tourists and worshippers. It's situated on a busy intersection; it's on the city's most popular shopping street; it's directly below a skywalk for Bangkok's BTS/Skytrain; and it's close to scores of eateries and the Grand Hyatt hotel. Hundreds of people pass by the shrine every 30 minutes on a daily basis.Interestingly, this shrine is also next door to the Police Hospital, which itself is next to a major police headquarters building."


Mr Elliot Brennan, non-resident research fellow with the Institute for Security and Development Policy's Asia Programme in Sweden, wrote on The Interpreter blog:"To the surprise of many, the government did not immediately go into lockdown and install a state of emergency or strict martial law. But schools and businesses have been ordered closed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

"The attack is an unsettling one for the junta. It promised stability. Now, under its watch, the largest and deadliest attack ever in Bangkok has taken place. How the junta responds will be closely watched... An all-out assault on Malay separatists or a rounding up of 'red shirt' leaders is most likely the next move... That may be counter-productive. An opening of democratic process and inclusive governance would be a smarter and more effective way to tackle deep grievances in Thai society."


Wall Street Journal reporters James Hookway and Warangkana Chomchuen wrote: "Concerns are growing that the bombing will hurt the country's important tourism industry. The hospitality business is one of the few sectors showing growth this year, as sluggish exports and private consumption weigh down the rest of the economy.

"MasterCard forecast that only London would receive more foreign visitors than Bangkok this year. In particular, the country has benefited in recent years from an influx of tourists from China. Monday's bombing killed four people from China, including two from Hong Kong, according to Xinhua, China's state news agency. Hong Kong and Singapore issued travel advisories recommending that travellers cancel nonessential trips to Bangkok."