Blast probe making progress, say Thai police

Thailand's national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri with a tablet displaying a picture of Ali Jolan, a foreign man wanted in connection with the Aug 17 bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. Thai police have issued an arrest warrant for Turkish
Thailand's national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri with a tablet displaying a picture of Ali Jolan, a foreign man wanted in connection with the Aug 17 bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Thailand's national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri with a tablet displaying a picture of Ali Jolan, a foreign man wanted in connection with the Aug 17 bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. Thai police have issued an arrest warrant for Turkish
Thai police have issued an arrest warrant for Turkish national Emrah Davutoglu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • Police in Thailand have claimed significant progress towards finding the mastermind of the country's deadliest attack after an arrested man admitted being near the scene of an Aug 17 explosion, and fingerprints tied him to the room of a suspected bomber.

The unidentified man, arrested less than a kilometre from the Cambodian border on Tuesday, told police he was not the Erawan Shrine bomber, but had been in the area when the blast killed 20 people.

"It's natural that the suspect will deny he did it, but we still have to continue to look into that," deputy national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda told reporters yesterday.

"Right now, the case has progressed about 70 per cent already."

The latest suspect had stayed in the same Nong Chok area of Bangkok as a man arrested last Saturday during a raid that also found fake passports, TNT, C4 and fertiliser.

GOOD PROGRESS

It's natural that the suspect will deny he did it, but we still have to continue to look into that. Right now, the case has progressed about 70 per cent already.

DEPUTY NATIONAL POLICE CHIEF CHAKTHIP CHAIJINDA, on the latest arrest in investigations into the Aug 17 bombing of a shrine in Bangkok.

An arrest warrant was issued yesterday for a Turkish man who police believed was in his home country. Police named him as Emrah Davutoglu, the husband of Thai national Wanna Suansan, another suspect.

Wanna is in Turkey and in contact with the Thai authorities. She had rented a room in a second Bangkok building raided by police, where bomb-making materials were found. Investigators say that both Wanna and Davutoglu spent time at the flat over the weekend.

Speaking to Agence France- Presse this week, Wanna insisted she was innocent of any involvement in the bombing, adding that her husband's friend had been staying at the flat.

She said she was in the town of Kayseri in Turkey, which is her husband's birthplace - according to details on a photo of his passport circulated by police on Tuesday.

A total of eight people are wanted in connection with the unprecedented attack.

So far, two unnamed foreign suspects have been arrested and are in military custody.

Though many details remain unknown, a connection with Turkey has been established by Thai police. It is unclear if the two detained men are Turkish but police have been interrogating them through a Turkish translator, and fake Turkish passports had been seized in one raid.

Police have received a torrent of criticism for leading a patchy probe, and statements from top officials about possible perpetrators, motives and information extracted from suspects have been contradictory, speculative and often cryptic.

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said fingerprints of the suspect who was arrested on Tuesday were found on explosives in the same room.

"The man... may be the person who took the bomb out of the room or brought the bomb to the location of the incident," Lieutenant-General Prawut said on TV.

He also said biometric systems would now be used at immigration checkpoints to catch any suspects.

The investigation has gained momentum since the weekend raids, before which the authorities had little more than a low-resolution surveillance camera video of a man in a yellow shirt leaving a rucksack at the popular Erawan Hindu shrine moments before the blast.

A Singaporean was among the 20 killed in the explosion which struck during the evening rush hour.

With no claim of responsibility, speculation has centred on sympathisers of Uighur Muslims, opponents of the military government, southern ethnic Malay rebels and foreign extremists.

Thailand's forced repatriation of 109 Uighurs to China in July caused international outrage and saw protesters smash windows and ransack parts of the Thai consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Many Uighurs transit through South-east Asia to try and get to Turkey, which has a large diaspora of Uighurs.

Turkey's embassy in Bangkok has issued a statement expressing concern about "speculative new reports" on the nationalities of those arrested and said it had asked for clarification.

Thailand's army chief and defence minister yesterday left for a three-day visit to China, but said it was a scheduled trip unrelated to the investigation into the bombing.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2015, with the headline 'Blast probe making progress, say Thai police'. Print Edition | Subscribe