Thai police link Uighurs to Bangkok bomb blast

BANGKOK • Thailand's police chief linked the Bangkok bomb attack to China's Uighurs for the first time, as the lawyer for one of two detained foreign suspects confirmed his client hails from the Muslim minority.

For weeks, Thai police have skirted around mentioning the word Uighur or suggesting their possible involvement in the attack, despite arrests and warrants that increasingly pointed in that direction.

Yesterday, Thai police formally referenced the Uighurs in relation to the case for the first time, after issuing a retraction of a mention of the group over the weekend.

"The cause was the human-trafficking networks - networks transferring Uighurs from one country to another. The Thai authorities destroyed or obstructed their human-trafficking businesses," Thai police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said yesterday, explaining the apparent motive for the attack.

The Aug 17 bombing killed 20 people, the majority of them ethnic Chinese tourists, raising the possibility of a link to militants or supporters of the Uighurs, an ethnic group who say they face persecution in China.

MOTIVE FOR ATTACK

The cause was the human-trafficking networks - networks transferring Uighurs from one country to another. The Thai authorities destroyed or obstructed their human-trafficking businesses.

GENERAL SOMYOT POOMPANMOUNG, Thai police chief

A month earlier, Thailand had forcibly deported more than 100 Uighur refugees to China, sparking international condemnation as well as violent protests in Turkey, where nationalists see the minority as part of a global Turkic-speaking family.

Police blame a gang of people-smugglers for the attack, motivated by revenge for a crackdown on their lucrative trade through Thailand, a motive which has been widely dismissed by security experts.

Analysts say Thailand is keen to avoid naming Uighurs for economic and diplomatic reasons. Chinese visitors are a linchpin of the tourist industry, and Beijing remains one of the increasingly isolated Thai junta's few international allies.

The lawyer of one of the two men in custody said yesterday that his client, allegedly discovered in a flat in possession of bomb-making equipment, denies any knowledge of the bomb plot.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Thai police link Uighurs to Bangkok bomb blast'. Print Edition | Subscribe