Key suspect in Bangkok shrine blast arrested

Thai soldiers escorting the Erawan Shrine bombing suspect (centre) after they arrested him near the Thai-Cambodian border yesterday. Thai police say he resembles the man caught on CCTV footage (above) planting the bomb on Aug 17.
Thai soldiers escorting the Erawan Shrine bombing suspect (centre) after they arrested him near the Thai-Cambodian border yesterday. Thai police say he resembles the man caught on CCTV footage planting the bomb on Aug 17.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Thai soldiers escorting the Erawan Shrine bombing suspect (centre) after they arrested him near the Thai-Cambodian border yesterday. Thai police say he resembles the man caught on CCTV footage (above) planting the bomb on Aug 17.
Thai soldiers escorting the Erawan Shrine bombing suspect after they arrested him near the Thai-Cambodian border yesterday. Thai police say he resembles the man caught on CCTV footage (above) planting the bomb on Aug 17.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Man caught trying to cross into Cambodia, authorities decline to reveal more details

Thai police have arrested a man they said was their main suspect in the Aug 17 bomb blast that killed 20 people in downtown Bangkok.

The man was caught yesterday (Tuesday) morning near the border with Cambodia, which had been put on high alert since the weekend, when the police made a breakthrough arrest in Bangkok. The suspect was swiftly flown back to the Thai capital in the afternoon for interrogation.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o- cha, who went on TV to announce the arrest, confirmed the man was a foreigner and believed to resemble the one seen in closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage leaving behind a bag believed to contain the bomb at the popular Erawan Shrine.

He gave no further details. But pictures surfaced showing a man with his baseball cap pulled low being taken away by army officers. 

The daily Khaosod quoted a local military commander, Major-General Srisak Poonprasit, as saying the man was caught in Sa Kaeo district near the Cambodian border .

The man had been spotted behaving "suspiciously'' and the route he took to the border was not the normal one, the commander added.

"Soldiers detained him and asked him for details, but the man was uncooperative, so they alerted police from Aranyaprathet," he said.

At a packed late-afternoon press conference in Bangkok , Thai police spokesman Prawuth Thavornsiri declined to give the man's name and nationality. He also dismissed images of a Chinese passport circulating on the Internet as false.  

But Gen Prawuth said the police were convinced the man was part of the network behind the blast, and that he resembled the man caught on CCTV planting the bomb.

"He is one of the important actors in the cell. We arrested him when he was going to cross the border to Cambodia," he said.

Separately, arrest warrants were issued for three Turkish men, wanted for possessing illegal explosives. Two names, transcribed from Thai by local media, were Ali Jolan and Ahmet Bozoglan. The third man's identity is unknown.

Since the blast, Thai police have taken two people into custody and there are five outstanding arrest warrants.

The unidentified foreigner arrested last Saturday in a rented flat in Bangkok had an array of bomb-making materials and stacks of apparently fake Turkish passports.

The bombing was the worst attack in Thailand in recent memory. While the motive remains unclear with no group claiming responsibility, security analysts speculate that there is a link to Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority in China's Xinjiang region which has been resisting Beijing's rule.

Bangkok is a staging post for Uighurs fleeing China to seek asylum, mostly in Turkey.

Thailand triggered widespread outrage when it deported more than 100 Uighurs to China in July.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Key suspect in Bangkok blast arrested'. Print Edition | Subscribe