The Thai courts have approved another arrest warrant for a suspect related to the Erawan shrine bombing even as Bangkok ruled out the involvement of eight people detained by Malaysian police.
A sketch released yesterday by Thai police depicts an unnamed bespectacled, cropped-hair suspect, about 30 years of age and 170cm tall, who allegedly bought material for a bomb in the capital about two weeks before the blast. His nationality is unknown but police say he can speak Thai.
There have been 14 arrest warrants issued since the Aug 17 blast, which killed 20 people and injured scores of others at the popular shrine during the evening rush hour. Seven of the dead were from China and Hong Kong.
Two men reportedly from China's restive Xinjiang region have been arrested, although their nationalities have not been confirmed by the Thai authorities.
Both have not, however, been identified as directly responsible for planting the Erawan shrine bomb or another one which detonated underwater at Sathorn Pier by the Chao Phraya River one day after the first explosion. The riverside blast did not injure anyone.
There has been persistent speculation that the bombings were conducted in retaliation for Thailand's forced repatriation of more than 100 ethnic minority Uighurs to China in July. The Muslim Uighurs living in Xinjiang allege mistreatment by the Chinese authorities.
But the Thai police have sought to play down any links to terrorism, and suggest instead that people smugglers thwarted by police had masterminded the blasts in retaliation.
Police have acknowledged, however, that the smugglers in question took Uighurs from China to Turkey, whose people share ethnic ties to Uighurs.
Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee, speaking after a briefing for foreign diplomats on the same issue, rapped the media for "various hypothetical conspiracy theories" that it had been "cooking up in the newspapers".
Thai police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri stressed again that the culprits cannot be identified as terrorists. "They have not announced what they want," he said.
He confirmed that eight people detained by Malaysian police, including four who are believed to be Uighurs, were not on Thailand's list of wanted suspects. Earlier yesterday, Malaysian police said their detainees were suspected of being part of a trafficking network and may have helped the shrine bomber escape from Thailand.
The chief of Malaysia's police counter-terrorism unit, Mr Ayob Khan Mydin Pitcha Ay, told Reuters that six of them were linked to a human trafficking gang.
"We believe that they facilitated the movement of the yellow-shirt man but we cannot confirm since it is an ongoing investigation," he was quoted as saying, referring to the man suspected of planting the bomb at the Erawan shrine, who was wearing a yellow T-shirt at the scene.
One of the men arrested by Thai police, Yusufu Mieraili, has admitted to delivering a backpack to the yellow-shirted bomber.
The Erawan blast was Thailand's deadliest in recent history and is feared to have kept tourists away at a time when Asean's second-largest economy is showing signs of slowing.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand, trying to restore confidence, invited Hong Kong movie stars Michelle Yim and Simon Yam to pay their respects at the shrine on Tuesday.
Ms Yim turned up in a traditional Thai costume and performed a tribute with Thai dancers by the statue of the Hindu god Brahma.