Thai police arrest foreign suspect in Bangkok blasts

The 28-year-old suspect, apparently a Turkish national, was arrested yesterday and is being held for alleged involvement in both the Erawan Shrine and pier explosions.
The 28-year-old suspect, apparently a Turkish national, was arrested yesterday and is being held for alleged involvement in both the Erawan Shrine and pier explosions.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Fake Turkish passports, bomb materials, tools found in his apartment

Thai police have arrested a foreigner who they say is part of the network that staged the deadly Aug 17 bomb blast in downtown Bangkok. An afternoon raid on a nondescript yellow apartment building on the eastern outskirts of the city yesterday yielded the 28-year-old man, apparently a Turkish national.

It also turned up stacks of fake Turkish passports, plus material similar to that used in the bombs that exploded at the Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok and at another location the next day. The second explosion did not cause injuries.

"It is unlikely that he is an international terrorist, it is a personal feud," national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters at the Royal Thai Police headquarters.

 

He did not explain how police had come to that conclusion, but said without elaborating that the motive was "taking personal revenge for his comrades".

The Aug 17 attack killed 20 people, including 12 foreigners, and left more than 100 injured.

Some 100 policemen in uniform and plain clothes descended on the low-rise building at around 1.30pm yesterday. Pictures showed the suspect in a room handcuffed and seated, with bomb parts and tools laid out in front of him. Members of the media and hundreds of onlookers swarmed to the building. The suspect was brought out about two hours later and handed to the military for interrogation.

Police spokesman Prawuth Thavornsiri, speaking on TV later, displayed pictures of dozens of Turkish passports found at the apartment, along with bomb parts, including fuses, steel pipes and ball bearings.

"Based on the preliminary investigation, he is connected with the two bombings, both at Ratchaprasong and Sathon," he said.

In the latter incident, a bomb exploded in water at a pier at one end of Sathon Road. Closed-circuit television footage showed a man on Aug 17, less than half an hour after the Ratchaprasong blast, lingering on a pedestrian bridge, then pushing a plastic bag into the water with his foot and walking away. The bomb exploded the next day.

The network had been in Thailand for a while, renting rooms in the apartment since July, a policeman at the scene told the media.

Reports said four or five rooms had been rented, and two to three people had stayed in them. It was unclear how the police had zeroed in on the building, but some reports said the owner of the block had called up to inform them of the foreigners staying there. Police had offered a US$85,000 (S$120,000) reward for information on the network.

In the aftermath of the bomb, analysts and experts had pointed to outside elements in the attack.

While potential perpetrators named by the police and experts included international jihadists, members of Thailand's southern Malay-Muslim insurgency, militants on both sides of Thailand's festering political divide and even someone with a personal grudge, security and intelligence experts have been almost unanimous in holding that the bombing did not fit the pattern of local groups.

The speculation of an outside group centred on China's ethnic Uighur Muslim minority - or their co-religious sympathisers - who may be motivated by Thailand's forced repatriation of more than 100 Uighur refugees last month to an uncertain fate in China.

Bangkok's consulate in Istanbul was stormed by angry protesters after the forced repatriation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Thai police arrest foreign suspect in Bangkok blasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe