Authorities must face a new reality
The Erawan bomber ghosted into the heart of Bangkok on Monday evening — took 20 lives in the blink of an eye — and disappeared just as swiftly into the night on the back of a motorcycle.
At this stage, all we seem to know about the suspect is he is a slender young man who wore a yellow Tshirt and carried a large black rucksack which he left behind on a seat.
He may or may not be Thai. He may or may not be a foreigner. He may or may not be a red shirt sympathiser/southern insurgent/Uighur terrorist/IS operative or loan wolf. He may or may not have been wearing a mop-top wig and glasses to disguise his identity.
The disjointed police investigation and mixed messages from the government have been on show for the world to see as the bombing has dominated global headlines for almost a week.
For those of us resident in Thailand, the struggles of police to make headway in the case comes as no surprise. Even allowing for the difficulties of a bomb going off at a major city intersection during evening rush hour, the forensic management of the site as a crime scene has to be questioned.
Whatever their intentions, rescue workers, passers-by and journalists had easy access to the site before police sealed off the area; wading through the distressing human carnage at will. By noon on Tuesday — 17 hours after the massive bomb was detonated — the road was reopened to traffic and the footpath repaired. Even after the reopening, a BBC correspondent reported finding blast ball bearings lodged in a wall near the site which he tried to give to local police. They declined the offer.
While theories about Uighurs and "local trouble-makers" were being espoused by the government and terrorism experts were offering hypothetical opinions, police were releasing images of the young suspect trudging along Ratchadamri Road.
They mentioned he had been taken to the shrine by a tuk-tuk and departed on a motorcycle taxi 15 minutes before the bomb exploded. He was dropped in a dark corner of Lumpini Park free from prying CCTV cameras. Armed with this information, it took a reporter from this newspaper, and many others, no time all to find the motorcycle driver and grill him for information. So keen was he to talk that a reporter from the The Times said the driver claimed investigators had revealed to him the name of the suspect, a claim which the prime minister later denied. Why were these key witnesses talking so freely?
Confusion also surrounded the second bombing at Sathon Pier on Tuesday morning after police claimed an explosive device was thrown from overhead. It was later revealed that the bomb had been earlier planted in the water then detonated.
So many questions remain unanswered, so much information blurred.
Why were/are the police claiming there were/are 10 suspects? Are they withholding information? What happened to the taxi driver who may or may not have taken the suspect to either Suvarnabhumi or Don Mueang airports in the immediate aftermath of the bombing? If so, which one was it? Given the different destinations flown to from the two airports wouldn't it help establish some clues as to his possible travel plans? The tuk-tuk driver said he picked up the suspect from Hua Lamphong railway station. Did he arrive in the country by train?
Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda takes over as police chief next month, but has already been appointed to oversee the blast probe. One foreign diplomat told Reuters he has a reputation as an "organised and decent investigator".
Pol Gen Chakthip has FBI and international "post-blast training" and reportedly said in a 2011 interview that "there are lots of techniques used by the terrorists and they keep changing, challenging the authorities with new tricks, trying to stay ahead of law enforcement".
His words could prove prophetic. Post 9/11 and with the growing threat of random, rogue acts of terrorism, Thailand can no longer see itself quarantined from the world community by religion or neutrality.
Despite how the investigation has been conducted, there is a real possibility that the bomber or bombers have slipped out of the country and may never be caught. The only positive that may come out of it for Thailand is a new sense of vigilance in protecting our borders and monitoring our streets. What form this takes will be up to the authorities to decide, but Thailand can no longer bury its head in the sand.
How the current military rulers and Pol Gen Chakthip, with his specialist training, approach this challenge will be interesting to witness.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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