KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Four foreigners and four Malaysian suspected human traffickers have been arrested in Malaysia connection with the bomb blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok in August, the Malaysian police said on Wednesday (Sept 23).
Deputy Inspector-General of police Noor Rashid Ibrahim said the latest arrests of four of the suspects were made in Kuala Lumpur and Kelantan four days ago.
"All eight are in their 30s and the four locals are human traffickers who smuggled foreigners into the country," he said during a press conference at the Bukit Aman police headquarters.
On Aug 17, 20 people were killed after the bomb exploded near the shrine.
Thailand's chief investigator looking into the deadly Erawan Shrine blast flew to Malaysia on Tuesday to seek more information and meet with a detainee believed to be a prime suspect in the attack, an informed source said.
Thai deputy national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda led the team, which included Central Investigation Bureau chief Chaiwatketworachai and the deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Maj-General Chanthep Sesawet.
They were expected to meet Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar over reports that the key suspect may have been detained during recent raids of many apartments and rented homes in Kuala Lumpur.
The suspect in question reportedly looks similar to the man in a yellow T-shirt who was captured on surveillance video leaving a backpack containing the bomb at the shrine on Aug 17.
The source also said the man held in Malaysia had confessed to playing a part in the attack after two days of interrogation. Based on that information, Gen Chakthip decided to travel to Kuala Lumpur to seek more information on the man, he claimed.
According to the source, the suspect now holds a renewed passport from the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and was about to travel to Turkey when he was nabbed. He identified himself as Ari, 31.
The source quoted the suspect as saying that after the blast, he escaped to Kuala Lumpur with the assistance of Thais and foreigners who provided shelters and sought escape routes for him to go to a third country.
It was believed the suspect might give a false name, the source said, and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan had been informed of all the information.
Meanwhile, a senior security source said police also suspected that the man detained in Kuala Lumpur might be the second key suspect, known as "blue-shirt man". He was seen in security-camera footage kicking a bag suspected of containing a bomb into water near the Chao Phraya River on the evening of Aug 17 at Sathorn Pier, under the Taksin Bridge.
The bomb went off the next day, but no one was injured.
Thai authorities have focused inquiries on a belief that the Erawan blast was caused by human-trafficking gangs who were badly affected by the government's serious crackdowns on the network.
National police chief Somyot Poompanmuang declined to confirm reports that Chakthip had gone to Kuala Lumpur to meet the suspect.
He said Gen Chakthip as the chief investigator had every right to conduct the investigation. "Gen Chakthip can proceed with the probe as he sees fit. He can go to Malaysia without having to inform me," Gen Somyot said.
Police and security officials have been working hard to bring the bombers and accomplices to justice, Gen Somyot said. If Kuala Lumpur has detained the real bomber, the Thai authorities will work to get him according to international laws and cooperation, he said.
Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner Rangsiprammanakul disclosed yesterday that many more arrest warrants would be issued, over the 13 already issued, as police were proceeding to interrogate many witnesses for more information. He said three witnesses sent by the military had been interrogated.