Those detained 'not involved' in Thai blasts

Some of the 15 suspects being escorted by soldiers yesterday to a Bangkok police station. The suspects were detained by the military and handed over to the police.
Some of the 15 suspects being escorted by soldiers yesterday to a Bangkok police station. The suspects were detained by the military and handed over to the police.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Suspects, many of them elderly, had set up illegal political party to oust govt, say police

BANGKOK • A group of 15 suspects detained by the Thai military investigating last week's deadly tourist resort attacks was not involved in the blasts, police said yesterday, adding to confusion surrounding the case.

The junta said on Thursday that the detainees had been held during their investigation into the bombing spree, which hit tourist towns in the south, killing four and wounding dozens, including Europeans.

But police said the group - many of whom are elderly - had in fact set up an illegal political party to overthrow the regime.

The bomb attacks were highly unusual in a country where foreigners and tourist towns are rarely caught up in the country's frequent bouts of political violence. Investigators have been under pressure to make quick arrests.

The group appeared at a Bangkok police station yesterday escorted by soldiers - the first time they have been seen in public - to hear the charges against them. Two were women and many of the men were in their 60s and 70s.

Many Thai media reports, quoting anonymous investigators, said the group helped coordinate the recent attacks.

But Major-General Chayaphol Chatchaidej, a senior official at the Office of Police Strategy who was at the police station to receive the suspects, yesterday told reporters they were not involved.

"There is no evidence linking them to the bomb attacks in the seven southern provinces, based on our investigation, although some of them are involved with lese majeste and arms trafficking," he said.

Instead he described them as a splinter faction of the anti-junta "Red Shirt" movement loyal to ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006. He said the network called itself the Revolutionary Front of Democracy party - a previously unheard-of group.

A police statement handed to reporters listing the suspects' names and ages said the group aimed to "accumulate arms... and overthrow the government" but made no reference to last week's bomb attacks.

The statement said they currently face one charge of breaching the junta's ban on political gatherings and another of belonging to an unlawful secret society.

That means no arrests or charges have yet been announced for people directly responsible for the blasts.

Thai deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phatanacharoen yesterday told reporters there there was only one warrant of arrest for a suspect in connection with the attacks. He was identified as Mr Ahama Lengha, a Thai national from Narathiwat province near the border with Malaysia.

Thailand's police and the military have a history of rivalry but since the 2014 coup, the military has spearheaded national security investigations. Previous bomb probes - including an attack on a Bangkok shrine last year that killed 20 - were marred by confusion and conflicting statements.

Both the police and the military have ruled out international terrorism for last week's attacks, saying the perpetrators were "local saboteurs".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Those detained 'not involved' in Thai blasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe