Uber driver blamed for Thai bomb scare

Driver believed to have left behind cellphones while dodging airport security officials

An Uber driver trying to evade the authorities could have caused the bomb scare at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Thursday night, say airport security officials.

As these drivers are illegal in the country, one of them could have left behind his two cellphones temporarily as he moved his vehicle away from the airport and tried to disguise his location from the authorities.

What he left behind - the two phones in a clear plastic container and connected by cable to a power bank - was found by a jogger at around 5.30pm, and the alarm raised. For about half an hour, the road in front of the Novotel hotel within the airport compound was closed as bomb disposal experts and sniffer dogs pored over the package and area.

"I think the driver was trying to hide his phone," Suvarnabhumi's vice-president of security Kitti- pong Kittikachorn, told The Straits Times. "For sure it's not a bomb. It's not a fake bomb."

Airport staff regularly use the tracking feature on the Uber mobile application to locate and nab Uber drivers operating around the airport, he explained.

Uber is a mobile application that matches private drivers with potential passengers. Although there are reportedly tens of thousands of Thai motorists who have signed up as Uber drivers, their services remain illegal in the kingdom. More recently, the Thai authorities also outlawed the motorcycle taxi version of Uber, called UberMoto.

Mr Kittipong said he saw the Uber application open on one of the phones in the suspicious package.

The incident on Thursday rattled nerves, given the occasional political violence that has erupted over the course of the kingdom's recent history. Explosions had taken place during the last round of street protests which paralysed the then Puea Thai-party run government and led to the 2014 coup that ushered in the current junta.

While Thailand's southern border provinces have been battered by a largely localised separatist insurgency, the South-east Asian region as a whole has had to confront the growing spectre of terrorism.

A string of blasts took place last year. In February, two small improvised explosive devices exploded in a walkway linking a skytrain station to Siam Paragon shopping mall in downtown Bangkok.

And in April that year, a car bomb went off in the basement carpark of Central Festival mall on the southern holiday island of Koh Samui. Seven people were injured.

The most deadly attack, however, occurred in August when a bomb that went off near the popular Erawan shrine in Bangkok's Rat- chaprasong intersection killed 20 people, including one Singaporean.

Meanwhile, Mr Kittipong said the authorities will be tracking down the owner of the abandoned mobile phones.

"He's in trouble for sure," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Uber driver blamed for Thai bomb scare'. Print Edition | Subscribe