TIME Thailand

Thai Police Clear Two Suspects of Involvement in Bangkok Bombing

The Erawan shrine, the site of Monday's deadly blast, is pictured in central Bangkok
Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters The Erawan shrine, the site of Monday's deadly blast, is pictured in central Bangkok on Aug. 20, 2015

Police have since identified a "woman in black" as a person of interest

Thai authorities have cleared two men previously marked as persons of interest in Monday’s bombing at a shrine in central Bangkok, marking another dead end in an investigation that has so far yielded more questions than answers.

Police first identified the men in CCTV footage from the Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist attraction where a pipe bomb killed 20 people, mostly foreigners, and injured more than 100 others. The video shows them standing immediately in front of a man in yellow as he drops a black backpack at the shrine. A police spokesman confirmed earlier this week that investigators believe that man — who remains at large — “is the bomber.”

The other two men, since identified as a vacationer from China and his Thai tour guide, are not believed to be involved in the attack, police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said on Thursday night. The Chinese national returned home the day after the bombing; his guide presented himself to the police for questioning on Thursday, the BBC reports.

After exonerating the two men from the footage, police were quick to identify another person of interest, described only as a “woman in black.”

Unlike in past incidents of political violence, which the Thai junta has been quick to attribute to “antigovernment” populist groups, authorities have avoided premature blame or speculation. Police have concluded only that the perpetrator was likely a foreigner and did not act alone, though also poured cold water on speculation the attack being perpetrated by “international terrorists.”

Junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has gone on the record to dismiss the idea that members of China’s Uighur Muslim marginalized minority executed the bombing as an act of revenge — Thailand repatriated 109 Uighurs to China last month at Beijing’s request — and Chinese officials have condemned the rumor.

“Don’t you think it is hugely irresponsible for anyone to draw a conclusion without any evidence?” an unnamed spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Bangkok told the South China Morning Post.

TIME Thailand

Thai Police Have Identified Two More Suspects in the Bangkok Bombing

A junta spokesperson said that the bombing was "unlikely to be linked to international terrorism"

Thai authorities say they have identified two more suspects in Monday night’s bombing of a crowded Bangkok shrine, citing the same CCTV footage that led police to issue an arrest warrant for an “unidentified foreign man” on Wednesday.

In the footage, two men, dressed respectively in red and white, appear to be standing close to the primary suspect as he drops a black backpack at the Erawan Shrine 15 minutes prior to the explosion. Police have expressed certainty that the man in the yellow T-shirt who dropped the bag was indeed responsible for the blast, which killed at least 20 people and injured more than 120 others. The proximity of the two other men to the suspect — seemingly setting a screen for him while he deposited the bag — has prompted authorities to name them as persons of interest.

Police have offered a reward of 1 million baht, or around $28,000, for any information about the perpetrators. A sketch of the primary suspect released on Wednesday afternoon presents him as a bespectacled young man whom police have described as “Caucasian, Arab or mixed race.” According to a Bangkok motorcycle taxi driver who purportedly picked him up a quarter-mile from the blast site, the man appeared to speak neither Thai nor English.

“He had a conversation on the phone,” said the driver, identified only as Kasem, according to the Bangkok Post. “I don’t know what the language is.”

The driver said he dropped the man at Lumpini Park, a popular public green space less than a mile from the Erawan Shrine, after he was shown the address written in English on a piece of paper.

Though authorities now appear confident in the assumption that the perpetrator is a foreigner, they have declined to speculate further, otherwise only conceding that he did not act alone. On Thursday, Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a junta spokesperson said that the bombing was “unlikely to be linked to international terrorism.”

Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha publicly discredited reports that the attack was the work of Uighur Muslim extremists seeking retribution against the junta. Last month, Thailand repatriated 109 Uighur refugees to China, where the minority alleges repression. Several terrorist attacks targeting civilians have been launched by Uighur extremists over the past two years.

“If they had done it, they would have come out and declared their responsibility by now,” Prayuth said on Wednesday, the Bangkok Post reported. “But it’s been three days and there is no one claiming responsibility. If they come out now, I won’t believe it is them.”

Prayuth has also discouraged international parties from involving themselves in the investigation, calling it “a breach of sovereignty,” though Reuters reports that Interpol have been asked for assistance in tracking down the suspects. Certainly, as more than half the dead were foreign nationals, and with Bangkok the world’s second most visited city last year, international interest has been intense.

Following the explosion, at least 23 nations issued travel advisories for Thailand, urging their citizens to exercise caution if visiting the country. The news is yet another blow to Thailand’s vital tourism industry, estimated to contributed some 10% of the local economy, and which was slowly recovering after last year’s military coup.

TIME Thailand

Thai Authorities Say Bangkok Bombing Suspect Did Not Act Alone

Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said the suspect should surrender or risk being killed by associates

As the busy Bangkok commercial district impacted by Monday night’s bombing cautiously returns to a semblance of normalcy, with even the crater sunk by the blast already concreted over, authorities continue to hunt the perpetrators of the attack that killed at least 20 people and injured around 140.

Thai police said Wednesday that their primary suspect — a man in yellow spotted on CCTV footage dropping a black backpack at the blast site — did not act independently, and that those who executed Monday’s blast were likely also responsible for an attempted bombing of Bangkok’s Sathorn pier on Tuesday.

“He didn’t do it alone for sure. It’s a network,” said Somyot Poompanmoung, commissioner general of the Royal Thai Police.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha attempted to coax the suspect out of hiding with a curious appeal. “If the person wants to be safe, he should turn himself in. Officials will find a legal way to provide him with safety,” he said. “It’s better than living in hiding. It would make his life miserable.”

The Bangkok Post reports that police are investigating a possible link to Uighur Muslim militants, who may have sought revenge for Thailand’s decision last month to repatriate 109 Uighur refugees to China, where the minority claims marginalization and associated abuses. However, officials have refused to speculate publicly, only venturing that Thai nationals may have been involved. Police said they have detained several foreigners for questioning, including an Australian-born model currently living in Thailand, but the effort has not yet furthered the investigation.

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri tweeted a sketch of the suspect on Wednesday afternoon, after noting that a reward of 1 million baht, or more than $28,000, awaited anyone who could provide information on the perpetrators.

By Wednesday morning, residents of Bangkok were placing flowers, incense and notes of condolence at the reopened Erawan Shrine, where on Monday the perpetrator placed a pipe apparently stuffed with 3 kg of TNT. Bangkok is the world’s second most popular tourist destination, and the shrine is one of its most frequented attractions, particular for Asian visitors. (Half of those killed were foreigners.)

The Erawan Shrine sits at the corner of the bustling Ratchaprasong intersection, which some call the city’s equivalent of Times Square in New York City. Numerous retail facilities in close proximity to the explosion — including CentralWorld, the world’s sixth largest shopping mall — resumed operations within a day, in spite of minor structural damages sustained in the blast.

Nearby hotels remained open following the attack, deemed the worst in the Southeast Asian nation’s recent history by General Prayuth, though some managers say stricter security measures have failed to assuage anxious tourists.

“We have provided a complimentary hotel limousine, because no one wants to take public transit to this area,” Khemwanta Thangon, the marketing and communications manager at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, tells TIME. “But what we understand is that guests have chosen to stay somewhere near the airport instead.”

The Grand Hyatt, located around 120 m from the shrine, has closed all but two of the hotel’s entrance points, where Khemwanta says security personnel are inspecting the luggage of guests and staff members as they enter.

It is too early to tell if or how this week’s violence will impact Thailand’s vibrant tourism industry, which reliably sustains around 10% of the country’s otherwise unsteady economy. In Hong Kong, the home of two tourists killed on Monday, the government has encouraged those traveling Bangkok to “adjust their travel plans.” Melissa Sweeney, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, wrote in an email to TIME that the embassy is “continuing to monitor the situation” and will keep U.S. citizens in the country informed of any developments. To the embassy’s knowledge, no U.S. citizens were killed or injured in the explosion.

Paul Quaglia, a security analyst based in Bangkok, said he expected international pressure to galvanize the investigation. “Unlike previous incidents, this one left 20 people dead, many of whom are tourists, and so foreign governments are going to be demanding an answer,” he tells TIME.

 

TIME Thailand

Thai Police Identify Suspect in Bangkok Bombing, but Motive Remains Unknown

Security experts have warned against premature speculation or blame

Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday that authorities had tentatively identified a suspect in connection to Monday night’s bomb blast at a shrine in central Bangkok that killed at least 20 people — including several tourists — and injured 140 others.

Prayuth referred to a man possibly linked to an “antigovernment group based in Thailand’s northeast,” citing CCTV footage from the blast site showing a man wearing a yellow T-shirt, Agence France-Presse reported. “He’s the bomber,” Police Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri said, referring to the man, the Wall Street Journal reported. “It’s very sure.”

The bombing, which Prayuth called the “worst ever attack” on Thailand, occurred around 7 p.m. at the Erawan Shrine, a Hindu religious site and popular tourist destination in the bustling commercial district of Ratchaprasong. Local police told the Bangkok Post that 3 kg of TNT had been stuffed into a pipe and placed within the shrine area, which was bustling with tourist traffic. At least three Chinese nationals were among the dead, along with other tourists from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Somsuan Pawake, a 35-year-old chief security guard for the Ratchaprasong area, tells TIME that he’d never witnessed such carnage. “I heard a series of screams and human flesh scattered around — even a head,” he says. “There were a lot of dead bodies lying on the street. I now fear for my life.”

No individual or group has publicly claimed responsibility for the bombing, and while authorities say they are actively hunting the suspect identified on tape, more questions than answers remain. Political unrest in Thailand is endemic and sometimes violent, but experts say Monday’s attack was unprecedented in its intended devastation. On Tuesday, a separate grenade attack was reported at Bangkok’s Taksin Bridge, though no casualties were reported.

“Political violence in Thailand in the last 10 years has been designed to limit casualties, particularly among foreigners. This is the opposite, and that’s troubling,” Paul Quaglia, a Bangkok-based security analyst, said by phone Tuesday morning. “It was intended to attack a crowded area. It was intended to inflict casualties.”

Long-standing political tensions between Thailand’s pro-monarchy, pro-military old guard and the country’s growing populist camp have escalated over the past 15 months, since a military coup d’état — the country’s second in less than a decade — overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Her ousting and Prayuth’s increasingly authoritarian junta have enraged the populist pressure group known as the Red Shirts, which first coalesced in 2006 to decry the successful military ousting of Yingluck’s brother, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prayuth’s administration was quick to link the Red Shirts to a recent string of minor bomb attacks in the country. In the wake of Monday’s bombing, however, several security experts rejected any premature assumptions, noting that the country’s Muslim insurgents located in the far south have only on the rarest occasion launched attacks outside of their own provinces, and that the pointedly political Red Shirts have never committed a mass casualty attack.

“Other targets would have been available in Thailand — military venues, military officials themselves — if they wanted to make a point about the government,” Quaglia said.

Thailand may have made other enemies, though. Last month, the government deported nearly 100 Uighur Muslims back to China, from where they had fled, at the request of the Beijing government. The move sparked an international outcry from human-rights groups and protests in Turkey, where many identify with the Turkic-speaking minority that claims marginalization and abuses in their homeland in China’s westernmost Xinjiang autonomous region. There, an insurgency has been waged targeting China’s Han majority, including terrorist attacks against civilians.

Certainly, the bombings are likely to have a chilling effect on Thailand’s key tourism industry. Self-styled as the Land of Smiles, the nation welcomes 25 million foreign visitors each year, yet the recent attack will only add to fears of instability following the May 22, 2014, putsch and subsequent introduction of martial law. (This was recently repealed and replaced with an equally draconian new security law.)

Francesco Fabiano, 40, from Italy, was lounging by his hotel’s swimming pool when Monday’s explosion shattered the evening calm. “We saw debris flying in the area and we could see people running around the street,” he says. “We are lucky. I am still with my wife and two children. However, I think the Thai government needs to work a lot now. They need to come up with safety measures for tourists.”

Michael Montesano, a co-coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, expressed concern that the junta would use Monday’s attack as “a pretext for increased repression.”

“This sort of violence in the center of Bangkok only contributes to the sinister atmosphere of military dictatorship and intimidation that now prevail in Thailand,” Montesano tells TIME in an email.

— With reporting by Mallika Panorat / Bangkok

TIME China

China Shutters 50 Websites for ‘Inciting Panic’ Over the Tianjin Disaster

Tianjin explosion China
Jason Lee—Reuters Smoke rises from the site of the explosions at the Binhai new district, Tianjin, on Aug. 13, 2015.

Beijing is notoriously anxious to control the flow of information about disasters

Beijing’s internet regulators have suspended or shut down 50 Chinese websites in the wake of last week’s explosions at a chemical warehouse in the city of Tianjin — the world’s 10th largest port — claiming they incited panic by spreading unconfirmed information about the blasts.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the state’s foremost web monitor, said in a statement Saturday night that it had suspended the operations of 32 websites and entirely shut down 18 more, stressing a “zero-tolerance” attitude towards what it described as scaremongering.

The impulse to control the flow of information is strong in the one-party state, and Chinese authorities have been notoriously tight-lipped about disasters — from the SARS outbreak of 2003 to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008.

Among the rumors about Tianjin that have flared up online are claims that the disaster’s death toll was above far higher than stated; that looting had erupted; and that the city’s political leadership was in flux.

Meanwhile, by midday Monday local time, the official fatality count in Tianjin was 114, with hundreds injured and at least 70 people still unaccounted for in the rubble of the blast site, CNN reported. The destruction has left thousands homeless and frustration is mounting in the city, where displaced residents and relatives of the missing await answers to questions about the cause and consequences of the explosion.

TIME Music

Ed Sheeran’s Newest Tattoo Is Unbelievable

His tattoo artist says this is just the beginning

A month ago, Ed Sheeran told the BBC that he’d memorialize his three sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium by having a lion — the mascot of England’s soccer team, which plays in the arena — tattooed upon his chest. He was not joking.

On Tuesday, the 24-year-old singer posted to Instagram a selfie featuring an unfinished lion’s head emblazoned upon his torso.

“Halfway and ouch,” he wrote in the caption.

Halfway and ouch

A photo posted by @teddysphotos on

Within a day, 433,000 people had liked the photo. It now has more than 28,000 comments, which alternate between confused, effusively complimentary, and shocked.

On Twitter, Sheeran gave credit to his tattoo artist, Kevin Paul, who has also worked on One Direction frontman Harry Styles.

In a conversation with The Mirror, Paul said that Sheeran, who is already hardly a body ink novice, has bolder plans in store.

“Ed is nowhere near done,” Paul said. “There are going to be even bigger tattoos in the next few months.”

Read next: This Guy Claims to Have Gotten ‘Jeb 4 Prez’ Tattooed on His Neck

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TIME Nigeria

Bomb Blast Kills At Least 47 in a Nigerian Market

The bomb exploded during peak trading hours, leaving dozens dead and injured

A bomb blast at a market in northeastern Nigeria killed at least 47 people and wounded dozens others on Tuesday, AFP reports.

The explosion occurred at around 1:15 p.m. local time in the mobile phone section of the market, located in the village of Sabon Gari in the state of Borno. The bomb had been hidden in a knapsack used for dispersing pesticides, which the perpetrator then abandoned, leaving it to detonate during peak trading hours.

A source at a hospital in the town of Biu told a local newspaper that 41 people had been admitted for injuries, and that many of those who had died were “mostly burnt or battered beyond recognition.”

Though no individual or group has claimed responsibility for the attack, witnesses noted that it resembled the work of Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that frequently targets crowded public venues in Nigeria and nearby countries. The group, which has killed over 15,000 people since 2009, has ramped up its attacks since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari in late May of this year.

On Tuesday, President Idriss Deby of Chad said publicly that an ongoing multilateral military operation in western Africa had succeeded in “decapitating” Boko Haram, and that the group’s new leadership sought negotiations with the Nigerian government.

TIME Thailand

A Top Thai Tattoo Artist Who Said His Tattoos Conferred Invincibility Has Been Murdered

Khachon Cherdchoo was a leading practitioner of sak yant, which associates tattooing with spiritual powers

A tattoo artist who told his customers his work would protect them from harm was fatally gunned down in southern Thailand early Monday morning, a local media outlet reported.

Authorities said that the victim, 40-year-old Khachon Cherdchoo, was a celebrated local practitioner of sak yant, a Southeast Asian custom that ascribes spiritual power to body art.

“He has many disciples and followers,” local police colonel Chalaermwuth Wongwiangchan said. “He has traveled to apply the yant to many celebrities around the country and has also traveled [to meet his customers] abroad.”

Local media reports that the perpetrator shot the artist four times as he walked home in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Police have arrested three men on suspicion of involvement with the crime, but the assailant remains at large.

What prompted the murder remains unknown, though police said that Khachon had a “dispute” with others in his community.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Suffers ‘Worst Shelling in Six Months’ as Violence Escalates

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
Aleksey Filippov—AFP/Getty Images Residents clean up the debris of their destroyed house after shelling between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists on August 10, 2015 in Golmovsky village, Donetsk region.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says the situation is a "dangerous indication" of coming conflict

Separatist insurgents staged assaults on Ukrainian villages on Monday, reports Reuters. State officials say the attacks featured the heaviest shelling in the region since February.

The Ukrainian military reported that their troops repelled tanks and around 200 rebel soldiers at the village of Novolaspa and a “battalion”-strength force with tanks and armored vehicles in nearby Starohnativka. Both locations are about 30 miles south of Donetsk, which the separatists declared as their capital early last year.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the situation “a dangerous indication” of imminent conflict, AFP said. The attacks are the latest in recent allegations that separatist forces have breached the truce signed in Minsk in February.

On Sunday, four tanks belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were set ablaze in Donetsk. Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk attributed the act to “unlawful armed groups.”

The insurgents have denied attacking Ukrainian troops and framed the country’s military as the aggressors, claiming Kiev is eager to reclaim the territories that declared their autonomy last April.

Over 6,500 people have been killed since the conflict between Ukrainian forces and separatists in the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk escalated in early 2014. The conflict has also strained the West’s relations with Moscow, which many accuse of backing the rebel forces.

TIME Books

Scientists Detect Traces of Cannabis on Pipes Found in William Shakespeare’s Garden

William Shakespeare, English playwright, 19th century. Artist: E Scriven
The Print Collector—Getty Images 19th century portrait of William Shakespeare, English playwright.

The drug was found using sophisticated gas chromatography methods

Some centuries-old pipes found in the garden of William Shakespeare still contain traces of cannabis, according to South African scientists who examined the relics with forensic technology.

The study, published in the South African Journal of Science, examined 24 pipe fragments from the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare lived. Some had been excavated from Shakespeare’s garden. Using advanced gas chromatography methods, researchers detected cannabis on eight fragments — four of which were confirmed as from the Bard’s garden, the Telegraph reports. Evidence of Peruvian cocaine was found on two others, though they were not from the same property.

Though some of his readers have long combed his work for what they see as coy references to drug use, there is no proof that Shakespeare himself used drugs and earlier studies by the same South African research team, led by anthropologist Francis Thackeray at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, have attracted the derision of many Shakespeare scholars.

The new study encourages them to reconsider the evidence.

“Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries,” it reads.

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