Thailand’s military junta said Thursday that this week’s deadly bombing in downtown Bangkok that killed 20 people was “unlikely” to have been carried out by international terrorists.
Military spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree also said that Chinese tourists, who were among the victims, were not the “direct target.”
“The security agencies have collaborated with intelligence agencies from a lot of countries and have come to the same preliminary conclusion that the incident is unlikely to be linked to international terrorism,” he said in a televised statement.
Winthai did not give any details on how authorities reached this conclusion, which raised questions after police issued an arrest warrant for the prime suspect on Tuesday, describing him as an unidentified “foreign” man.
The Monday evening attack at the Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist site that is known to attract Chinese visitors, left 20 people dead and more than 120 injured. Four Chinese citizens were among the dead.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it. One is that the blast was a revenge attack related to Thailand’s recent deportation to China of more than 100 Uighur Muslims, or that it could have been carried out by Islamist groups expanding their reach in Southeast Asia.
A manhunt was underway for a man shown in a security video leaving a backpack at the popular Bangkok shrine just minutes before the bomb exploded. Police released a sketch of the man on Tuesday depicting a young man with black-bushy hair wearing glasses, and the arrest warrant described him as tall with a fair complexion, a prominent nose and thick lips.
Authorities have offered a reward of 1 million baht, about $28,000, for information leading to his arrest.
Two other people seen on the video near the man are also considered suspects in Monday’s deadly bombing, police said late Wednesday.
The grainy security video shows the man, wearing a yellow T-shirt and shorts, sitting down on a bench at the shrine, taking off a black backpack and leaving it behind as he stands up and walks away. Time stamps show he left the shrine 15 minutes before the explosion, which struck just before 7 p.m.
The two possible accomplices are seen standing in front of the man, said police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri. One of the men was wearing a red shirt and the other was in white, and they were seen leaving the area shortly before the man in yellow also left.
At a news conference, Prawut expressed uncertainty about the man’s origin, saying the suspect “looks like a foreigner” but “might have been in a disguise and wearing a fake nose.”
He faces six charges including conspiring to commit premeditated murder and conspiring to commit a bombing that resulted in death and severe injuries.
Prawut told reporters Wednesday night that police would continue to scrutinize closed-circuit TV footage of the area from before the blast for clues about suspects. He said that if the men in red and white shirts were innocent and aware of the suspicions against them, they should report to police.
Two days after the attack, which authorities have called the worst in Thai history, the shrine reopened to the public. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast at one of the capital’s busiest intersections during evening rush hour.
The attack has raised concerns about safety in a city that draws millions of tourists, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha “is worried about the security of people and tourists in Thailand,” the police chief said.
Prayuth has called the attack “the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand” and vowed to track down those responsible.
Police say security that includes plaiclothes officers has been increased at high-profile places and areas frequented by tourists, but there was little visible sign of tight security and life has mostly returned to normal in the city.
Thai authorities identified six victims as Thai and four as Malaysians, along with four Chinese, two people from Hong Kong including a British citizen, one Indonesian and one Singaporean. Two victims remain unidentified.
A funeral was held Wednesday for 45-year-old Waraporn Changtam, one of the victims of the bombing. Her grieving older sister, Sawaros Kumrit, had a message for those responsible for the blast.
“I don’t know who you are mad at, but don’t take it out on my family,” she said, adding that those killed by the bomb “were good people. They were innocent.”
Bangkok has seen politically charged violence in the past decade. The deadliest, in 2010, killed more than 90 people in two months and was centered on the same intersection where Monday’s bomb went off. But none of those attacks included a bomb that seemed intended to produce mass casualties.
Thailand has seen many violent attacks in recent years, particularly in a long-running insurgency by Muslim separatists that has killed over 5,000 in the country’s south. Those attacks, however, have never reached the capital.
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