Warrants out for 17 after bomb blasts in Thailand

Bystanders watch as police dispose of a suspicious-looking bag in the Ratchaprasong district in Bangkok yesterday. The area is popular with tourists. The incident turned out to be a bomb scare.
Bystanders watch as police dispose of a suspicious-looking bag in the Ratchaprasong district in Bangkok yesterday. The area is popular with tourists. The incident turned out to be a bomb scare.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Police seeking warrants for more suspects based on evidence captured on CCTV

A Thai military court has issued arrest warrants for 17 people amid a massive hunt for those responsible for last week's wave of bombings and arson attacks in southern resort destinations.

Police are preparing to seek more warrants for suspects who allegedly planted the bombs, and were captured on closed-circuit television.

Attackers set off 11 bombs in the provinces of Phuket, Surat Thani, Phangnga, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Trang, and staged arson attacks on shops in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Krabi, on Aug 11 and 12, several days after the politically divided country held a constitutional referendum.

Despite some analysts' assessment that it was likely the work of militants waging a separatist insurgency in Thailand's southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, and a part of Songkhla, police have tried to play down the possibility. Such a scenario would threaten Thailand's lucrative tourist industry.

The wave of violence killed four people and injured more than 30. No group has claimed responsibility, although the police refused to call it "terrorism" and instead labelled it "local sabotage".

Yesterday, a top legal adviser from the ruling junta, Colonel Burin Tongprapai, told reporters that 15 of the 17 people with outstanding warrants were being detained at army barracks in Bangkok, while the authorities were looking to take back into custody others who had been released earlier.

The detainees, who face charges of illegal assembly and being part of a criminal association, will be handed over to the police today. Junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree told The Straits Times: "It may be found later that some of them are linked to the attacks in the seven provinces."

Police chief Chakthip Chaijinda, however, shrugged off the military detention and addressed instead surveillance video footage of suspects who allegedly planted the bombs in the seaside district of Hua Hin, where two people were killed. Local press reports say police in Hua Hin and Surat Thani are preparing to seek arrest warrants based on CCTV footage.

The probe, so far, has been marked by seemingly independent actions taken by the military and the police. While local policemen have been combing separate bomb sites for evidence, soldiers have detained at least a dozen people across the country on Aug 13 - the day after the blasts - according to human rights group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Thailand has been run by a military government since the 2014 coup, under an interim Constitution which gives the junta absolute power. 

The blasts were detonated by improvised explosive devices containing mobile phones, power banks and other materials, going by some unexploded devices picked up near the sites.  

Despite some analysts' assessment that it was likely the work of militants waging a separatist insurgency in Thailand's southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, and a part of Songkhla, police have tried to played down the possibility. Such a scenario would threaten Thailand's lucrative tourist industry, which survived a deadly bomb attack in central Bangkok last year to pull in almost 30 million visitors. Two ethnic Uighurs from China's Xinjiang region are on trial over the blast. 

Instead, various members of the junta suggested the attack was orchestrated by people who had "lost benefits" after the referendum on Aug 7, where voters endorsed a draft Constitution that would give the junta oversight over the future elected government through its selection of a fully appointed Senate.

The ousted Puea Thai party, as well as leaders of the "Red Shirt" movement allied with it, have publicly denied a role in the attacks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Warrants out for 17 after bomb blasts in Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe