TIME Thailand

Fingerprints on Bombmaking Material Match Suspect’s in Bangkok Attack

Thailand Explosion
AP Thai authorities arrest a man they believe is part of a group responsible for a deadly bombing at a shrine in central Bangkok on Aug. 17, 2015

The bombing killed 20 people and wounded more than 120

Thai police say the fingerprints of a foreign man arrested at Thailand’s border with Cambodia match those they found on a bottle containing bomb-making material.

The bottle was among many items seized during a raid Saturday of an apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok where another suspect was arrested as part of the investigation into the deadly Aug. 17 bombing at the Erawan shrine.

Both suspects are being interrogated by the military and have not yet been charged.

National police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said Wednesday that the man arrested at the border on Tuesday “is important and is related to or conspired with people” behind the bombing that killed 20 people and wounded more than 120.

TIME Thailand

Prime Suspect in Bangkok Bombing Has Been Captured, Thai Junta Chief Says

Local media reports he is a Uighur Muslim from China's westernmost region of Xinjiang

The prime suspect in last month’s bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine has been arrested at the Thai-Cambodian border, Thailand’s officials said Tuesday.

Twenty people were killed and more than 120 injured when the blast ripped through the popular tourist attraction on Aug. 17, in what Thai junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha dubbed the worst attack on the Thai capital in recent memory. Authorities now believe they have apprehended the man in a yellow T-shirt, with dark-rimmed glasses and shaggy hair, seen on CCTV footage dropping a black backpack at the shrine immediately before the blast.

A series of raids over the weekend uncovered bombmaking equipment and a stash of fake passports in eastern Bangkok, and led to one arrest and three warrants issued, including for a Muslim Thai woman who later showed up in Turkey.

According to the Bangkok Post, the man arrested Tuesday was in possession of a Chinese passport with the name Yusufu Mieraili, 25, from China’s Xinjiang region — the resource-rich homeland the embattled Uighur Muslim minority.

If this identity is confirmed, the bombing would seem to be revenge for the July forced repatriation by Thailand of 109 Uighur Muslims to China. The return led to furious protests in Turkey, including an attack on the Thai consulate, as many Turks see themselves as having a common bond with the Turkic-speaking Uighurs.

“A significant proportion of the growingly disenchanted and disenfranchised Uighur population are resorting to escaping China,” Alexander Neill, an expert on Uighur issues at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, tells TIME. “And many Turks see them as ethnic brethren in term of espousing pan-Turkic unity and the glory days of the Ottoman Empire.”

Uighur terrorist attacks have repeatedly targeted civilians in China, including a bloody knife rampage at Kunming train station on March 1, 2014, which killed 31 people and left 141 wounded.

As the Erawan Shrine is popular with mainly ethnic Chinese tourists, and they accounted for half the total dead, the blast seems to have had the twin goals of punishing Thailand for the repatriation and the Beijing government for perceived ongoing marginalization and abuses.

The Uighur connection would also present new problems for the Thai authorities. Bangkok has long been a hub of international criminal syndicates, including narcotics and human-trafficking gangs from Central Europe, owing to lax enforcement, excellent regional connectivity and complicity among certain venal elements of local law enforcement. The Erawan attack, the prospect of ever more Uighur migrants arriving in the Thai capital, and the apparent conflation of criminal and terrorist networks, throw up serious challenges for internal security and Sino-Thai relations.

“China’s response has been to force the hand of Thailand to forcibly repatriate whatever Uighurs they find,” says Neill. “But the bombing exposes the underbelly of this people-smuggling operation and that there’s real doubts that Thai military junta have actually got a grasp of its extent.”

TIME Thailand

Australian Journalist and Colleague Cleared of Charges in Thai Navy Defamation Case

Morison and Sidasathian, reporters for the Phuketwan news website, speak to media as they arrive to a criminal court in Phuket
Reuters Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison, right, and Chutima Sidasathian speak to media as they arrive to a criminal court in Phuket on April 17, 2014

Amnesty International called the verdict "a welcome move for freedom of expression"

An Australian journalist and his Thai colleague have been cleared of defamation charges brought after they reported accusations that some officials in the Thai navy were complicit in human trafficking.

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, of the Phuketwan news website based on the Thai tourist island of Phuket, faced a possible jail sentence after they quoted an excerpt from a 2013 Reuters special report on human trafficking that subsequently won the news agency a Pulitzer prize.

The line quoted an anonymous trafficker saying certain Thai navy officers profited from turning a blind eye to people smuggling.

A Phuket court acquitted both the journalists of defamation and breaching the Computer Crimes Act on Tuesday morning, reports the BBC.

Neither Reuters nor the two award-winning journalists who penned the original story faced any charges, leading to press freedom advocates to accuse the Thai navy of attempting to muzzle the media by making an example of relatively low-level players.

Reuters has also faced criticism for distancing itself from the case, though the news agency released a statement Tuesday welcoming the verdict. “We are pleased at the Court’s verdict in the case today and Reuters wholeheartedly supports the principles of a free press,” said the statement.

TIME Thailand

Thai Sought in Bangkok Bombing Believed to Be in Turkey

She had been away for three months before the bombing

Police in Thailand say relatives of a woman whose arrest they are seeking in connection with the deadly Aug. 17 bombing at a central Bangkok landmark have told them they believe she is in Turkey.

Police on Monday issued an arrest warrant for the woman, identified as Wanna Suansun., who was listed as having rented an apartment where bomb-making materials were found by authorities. Police raided the woman’s registered residence in the southern province of Phang Nga, but did not find her.

Police Maj. Gen Chalit Keawyarat said her relatives told them she had been away for three months, and they believed she was in Turkey because her husband is Turkish.

Read next: Thai Police Just Gave Themselves the Reward Offered for Information on the Bangkok Bombers

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TIME Thailand

Thai Police Just Gave Themselves the Reward Offered for Information on the Bangkok Bombers

THAILAND-UNREST-BOMBING
Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images Thai policemen check security at bars in the tourist area of Bangkok on August 19, 2015.

They've decided to take the money for themselves even though the key suspect is still at large

Thai police have given themselves the 3 million baht (about $84,000) reward originally offered to the public for information leading to the capture of suspects connected to the Aug. 17 bombing of the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok.

The move comes even though the chief suspect — a man in a yellow T-shirt seen on CCTV cameras dropping a black backpack at the shrine minutes before the explosion — is still at large.

A raid in the east of the capital on Saturday recovered a stash of bombmaking equipment and led to the arrest of an unnamed foreign suspect.

Although no link has yet been proved to the deadly blast, which claimed 20 lives and left more than 120 people injured, police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters on Monday that the police deserved to collect the reward for their diligence and hard work, reports the local Nation newspaper

Warrants have been released for three suspects, only one of which has been named — Wanna Suansan, 26, according to the English-language website of the popular Thai newspaper Khaosod.

TIME Thailand

Thai Police Believe the Bangkok Bombers Planned Further Attacks

Thai Royal Police officials remove evidence from the site where a suspect of the recent Bangkok blast was arrested, in Bangkok
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters Thai Royal Police officials remove evidence from the site where a suspect of the recent Erawan Shrine blast was arrested in Bangkok on Aug. 29, 2015

Weekend raids have led to one arrest and the seizure of bombmaking equipment

The recent bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine was likely intended to be the first of a spate of similar terrorist attacks, say Thai police, who are now seeking a Thai woman thought to be connected to a foreign suspect arrested over the weekend.

According to the English-language website of popular Thai newspaper Khaosod, the woman has been identified as Wanna Suansan, 26.

At least 20 people died and more than 120 were injured on Aug. 17 when an explosion ripped through the popular Hindu shrine that is a huge draw for Asian tourists visiting the Thai capital, especially ethnic Chinese. Half the dead were foreigners.

On Sunday, authorities found what appeared to be bombmaking equipment — including urea-based fertilizer (which can be mixed with nitric acid to make a potent explosive), digital clocks and flash powder — at an apartment in east Bangkok after a raid in a neighboring district on Saturday turned up a haul of similar paraphernalia. A foreign man of unknown nationality was arrested during the earlier raid and remains in custody.

“There were large quantities of bombmaking materials including 10 detonator cords” seized on the first raid, said assistant police chief Prawut Thavornsiri, according to the Bangkok Post.

The detained suspect was apparently in possession of a fake Turkish passport, though investigators are not sure as to his true nationality, and the Turkish embassy has denied he is a citizen.

“He gave a certain amount of cooperation, saying where he traveled from,” explained Prawut. “But we don’t believe everything he said. So far he has made no confession.”

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the Erawan Shrine blast. The key evidence remains CCTV footage of a slender man with yellow T-shirt, dark-rimmed glasses and shaggy hair who is seen dropping a bag at the shrine minutes before the explosion and hastily departing. Police do not believe the suspect in detention is the same man.

Besides a drastic and bloody escalation of long-standing political tensions between Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts, or a bid by southern Thailand’s Malay-Muslim militants to bring their insurgency to the capital, it is being suggested that a group sympathetic to the Muslim Uighurs of far northwestern China may be responsible.

Many Uighurs complain of marginalization and repression in their homeland at the hands of Beijing. A total of 109 Uighurs were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to China last month — and were seen arriving in shackles and hoods. Many Turks feel a common bond with the Turkic-speaking Uighurs and their treatment at the hands of the Thais prompted furious protests in Istanbul, including an attack on the Thai consulate there.

Anthony Davis, a Southeast Asia specialist at security analysts IHS-Jane’s, told a meeting at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand last week that ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves from Turkey were likely responsible for the Erawan Shrine bombing.

“We’re probably looking at a hybrid involving an ideologically or politically driven element based abroad — maybe Turkish nationals, Uighur exiles or Uighur exiles with Turkish nationality — and a Bangkok-based criminal component acting as facilitator,” he tells TIME. “What they have in common is the same ethnicity and the same shared hatreds.”

Davis says the “traditional cozy accommodations” between some corrupt Thai officials and transnational gangs operating in Thailand — often regarded as just “common criminals” — may now come under scrutiny. “These mutually profitable arrangements may now be seen as representing a direct threat to national security,” he says.

TIME Thailand

Police Arrest Foreigner in Bangkok Shrine Bombing

The man was arrested Saturday in Nong Jok on the outskirts of the capital

(BANGKOK) — Thai authorities arrested a foreign man Saturday they said had been holed up in a suburban apartment with bomb-making equipment and stacks of passports, the first possible breakthrough in the deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine nearly two weeks ago.

All television channels broadcast a televised announcement Saturday evening on the suspect’s arrest, which came 12 days after the bombing that authorities have called the deadliest attack in Thailand’s modern history.

Police and soldiers raided the apartment in an eastern Bangkok suburb and found bomb-making materials that matched those used in the Aug. 17 blast at the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok, national police spokesman Prawuth Thavornsiri said in the televised statement.

The blast which killed 20 people and injured more than 120 was followed a day later by another explosion at a public ferry pier, which caused no injuries but exacerbated concerns about safety in the Thai capital, which draws millions of tourists.

“Our preliminary investigation shows that he is related to both bombings,” Prawuth said, as he showed photographs of what police seized, including detonators, ball bearings and a metal pipe that police believe was intended to hold a bomb.

Police chief Somyot Poompanmoung later told reporters that “the bomb materials are the same, similar or the same type” as those used in both bombings.

Police also found “a number of passports from one country,” Prawuth said. He did not name the country but photographs shown during the broadcast showed stacks of passports that appeared to be Turkish.

Earlier, Prawuth said that authorities had not yet determined his nationality and dismissed Thai news reports saying he is Turkish. Images of a Turkish passport with the apparent suspect’s picture were posted on social media.

“The passport you see is fake,” said Prawuth, referring to the online photos. “We don’t know if he is Turkish or not.”

A photograph of the suspect showed a young man with short brown hair and a light beard and mustache.

Asked what could be the motive for the bombing, the police chief told reporters, “it’s a personal grudge .. not international terrorism.” He did not elaborate or give a clear explanation.

Somyot said the suspect had traveled in and out of the country since January 2014.

The blast at the Erawan Shrine was unprecedented in the Thai capital, where smaller bombs have been employed in domestic political violence over the past decade, but not in an effort to cause large-scale casualties.

The shrine is a popular tourist destination, particularly with Chinese visitors, who are an important segment of the lucrative tourist market. At least six of the dead were from China and Hong Kong. It sits on the corner of a busy traffic intersection with a nearby overhead walkway in a neighborhood full of upscale shopping malls and five-star hotels.

Soon after the bombing, police released an artist’s sketch of a man seen in a security camera video leaving a backpack at a bench then walking away from the open-air shrine. A separate camera showed the man, wearing a yellow T-shirt, on the back of a motorcycle taxi leaving the site.

The man seen in the video was believed to have carried out the bombing, which police said was likely planned by a group of people. They indicated in Saturday’s news conference that the man arrested was not the bomber seen in the video.

“We believe he is a culprit in the same network. More details will be given later,” Prawuth said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it.

Possible suspects include parties seeking to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of ethnic Uighurs to China. Uighurs are related to Turks, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community.

Other theories included Muslim separatists from southern Thailand, opponents of Thailand’s military government and feuding factions within the security services.

Police have been criticized for releasing conflicting statements and rapidly hosing down the crime scene at the shrine before all forensic evidence was recovered. Many accused authorities of rushing to clean up the bomb scene to reassure the public — especially foreign tourists — that security in the city was back to normal.

Police say they have been handicapped by low-quality and broken surveillance cameras and a lack of sophisticated image-processing equipment to clarify the fuzzy images in security videos, which were the only firm evidence they had.

___

Associated Press journalist Papitchaya Boonngok contributed to this report.

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TIME Thailand

Thailand Blames Troubled Bombing Inquiry on Lack of ‘Modern Equipment’

People ride their motorcycles past a digital billboard showing a sketch of the main suspect in Monday's attack on Erawan shrine, in Bangkok, Thailand
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters People ride their motorcycles past a digital billboard showing a sketch of the main suspect in the Aug. 17 attack on Erawan shrine in Bangkok on Aug. 23, 2015

"I have to say we need some luck," says Thai police chief

Authorities presiding over the investigation into last week’s Bangkok bombing have publicly acknowledged for the first time that their pursuit may be a near futile one, conceding that the only plausible suspect — a supposedly foreign young man in a yellow T-shirt captured on CCTV footage placing a backpack at the blast site — “may have already fled” the country.

Officials have so far not pretended to understand the motive or forces behind the attack, which killed 20 tourists and locals at the popular Erawan Shrine in Bangkok’s bustling Ratchaprasong district, or that of the botched bombing of the city’s Sathorn Pier the following day.

“I have to say we need some luck,” Somyot Poompanmoung, commissioner general of the Royal Thai Police, said. “If the police have good fortune, we might be able to make an arrest, but … if the perpetrator has good fortune, maybe they can get away.”

Somyot said that police and military forces had started a citywide sweep of “more than 10,000 places in the Thai capital” in the belief that “some of those involved are still in Thailand.”

He also called for foreign assistance in the ongoing investigation, and said that the dearth of reliable information so far was due to a lack of “modern equipment that supports the work” (specifically, according to the Associated Press, malfunctioning CCTV cameras in central Bangkok).

“There are two dimensions to this situation. One is the authorities’ utter lack of message discipline,” Michael Montesano, a co-coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, wrote in an email to TIME on Monday. “Too many men in uniform are talking too often, typically with nothing to say.

“The second is that, yes, if the bombers really were foreigners and if they made a point of getting out of Thailand fast then there really is the chance that this investigation will lead to no results for a long, long time.”

Meanwhile, Bangkok’s zealous desire to persuade tourists — who sustain around 10% of Thailand’s economy — that normality is returning has aroused some disquiet.

A day after the attack, commercial and tourist activity had resumed tentatively in Ratchaprasong, described by some as Bangkok’s answer to New York City’s Times Square. But within hours of the Erawan Shrine’s reopening to the public last Wednesday, witnesses said that human remains were falling from tree branches overhead. Others ventured that the haste with which authorities cleaned the crime scene may have accidentally compromised valuable evidence in the investigation.

Thai immigration officials have not released information on how the attack has impacted holiday arrivals, though some travelers said they chose to aim on the side of caution.

“We were in Koh Lanta heading for Bangkok, but we rerouted our trip through Tokyo,” Casey Quackenbush, an American tourist, tells TIME. “The first bombing happened on the 17th, and we wanted to wait it out to see what would happen — but by the 21st, not only was there a second one, there was so little progress in the investigation it just wasn’t worth it.”

TIME Thailand

Suspects in the Koh Tao Murder Trial Were Given Woefully Unqualified Interpreters

Myanmar migrant worker Win Zaw Htun sits in a prison truck as he arrives at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters Burmese migrant worker Zaw Lin sits in a prison truck as he arrives at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui, Thailand, on July 22, 2015

The accused claim they are scapegoats and face a possible death sentence if convicted

A Thai court has heard that the interpreters used to record the confessions of two Burmese men accused of murdering a pair of British backpackers last year were in fact pancake hawkers who did not properly understand Thai or the suspects’ native Burmese dialect.

Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, both 22, stand accused of the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao. The victims’ bloodied corpses were discovered in the early hours of Sept. 15 on popular Sairee Beach just yards from their guesthouse.

The suspects, both ethnic Rakhine from Burma’s restive western Arakan state, were working on Koh Tao at the time, and admitted to the double murder during interrogation. However, they soon recanted and claimed they were tortured into confessing.

On Thursday, Samui Central Court heard that two Rohingya Muslims — an ethnicity currently engaged in a bitter sectarian feud with the Rakhine — were employed as interpreters during their interrogation. However, they only had rudimentary understanding of Thai and the Rakhine language, reports the Myanmar Times.

One of the translators, named Ko Ye, admitted to the defense team that he signed a statement confirming what was said during the interrogation even though it was written in the Thai language, which he could not read.

Speaking to TIME in Koh Samui prison prior to the trial, Wai Phyo said the translator accused him of being party to mob violence against Rohingya in their homeland. “He asked me: ‘When the riots started in Burma, where were you? Did you burn down my village?’” said Wai Phyo.

The case continues.

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.

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