Arrest warrants filed for two in Bangkok bombings

Thai investigators cordoning off an area where an explosion took place in Bangkok on Aug 2, 2019. PHOTO: AP

BANGKOK - Arrest warrants have been filed against two men from southern Thailand over a string of bomb blasts that rocked Bangkok last week, in a case which police admitted was difficult because of the professional nature of the attacks.

The duo, who have been detained since Aug 2, are likely to be just foot soldiers in the entire attack, admitted police at a press conference on Thursday (Aug 8).

"All the devices we found - both the ones that explode as well as the ones that start fires - worked with time-delay devices," said Police Lieutenant-General Suwat Chaengyotsuk, an assistant to the national police chief, highlighting the coordinated nature of the attacks.

"Those arrested are on the lowest rung in the chain of command. We need to find the masterminds, but it's not easy."

Two suspicious objects were left outside the Thai police headquarters in Bangkok on Aug 1, causing a brief scare, as foreign ministers from the world convened in the capital for the annual Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting and related forums.

The next day, at least six blasts and four fires occurred in various spots, including outside the Government Complex on the outskirts of Bangkok and in front of the Ministry of Defence.

Other scares unfolded throughout the week: Last Sunday, two small home-made bombs were found outside a convenience store in Nonthaburi province bordering Bangkok. One of them exploded, while the other was defused by bomb experts.

On Wednesday, an unexploded firebomb was reportedly discovered buried beneath piles of clothes in the bustling Pratunam market.

Security has been stepped up in the capital.

Police said it was likely more than 15 people had carried out the attacks, but refused to disclose how many had been detained in this investigation.

Deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan had said on Tuesday the blasts were "linked to a southern group", but police declined to confirm if they had any connection with the unrest in Thailand's southern border provinces, where a separatist insurgency has claimed over 6,000 lives since 2004.

The two arrested, Look-ai Saengae, 22, and Wildon Maha, 29, are both natives of the Malay-Muslim-majority Narathiwat province.

"There is evidence that (they) entered Bangkok using public transport, disguised themselves by changing clothes in several spots before planting the bombs and escaping," a police statement said.

Pol Lt Gen Suwat said: "It's possible that this is linked to the incidents in the south but we will not state so until we have evidence."

Human rights activists have raised questions about the manner in which suspects were detained.

The two suspects were detained by police in Chumphon province on Aug 2 and taken to Yala province for questioning. It was not until three days later that they got to see their relatives and attorneys.

Police said that they were arrested under the Emergency Decree, which has long been in place in the southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, and allows a suspect to be held in an unofficial detention centre for seven days with court permission.

But the Emergency Decree is not in place in Bangkok or Chumphon, raising the question of whether police had abused their powers, said advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights in a statement on Wednesday.

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