Police believe 'at least 10' behind blast

Police believe 'at least 10' behind blast

Military, police at odds on key attack motives

Tourists lit incense sticks and prayed Thursday in honour of the victims of Monday's bombing. The Erawan shrine where the bomber killed 20 people continues to draw local and foreign visitors, although with tighter security. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
Tourists lit incense sticks and prayed Thursday in honour of the victims of Monday's bombing. The Erawan shrine where the bomber killed 20 people continues to draw local and foreign visitors, although with tighter security. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

The Erawan bombing culprits could number more than 10 people working as a "well-organised team", national police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang says.

Pol Gen Somyot said Thursday police have obtained evidence suggesting the bombing involved several people surveying the site and the route in advance, acquiring components to make the bomb, and planning an escape.

Police believed the deadly blast could have taken about a month to plan.

"Based on discussions with international experts it appears this incident probably involved a big network of more than 10 perpetrators," Pol Gen Somyot said.

"And based on evidence and witness accounts, they surveyed the area several times and planned an escape route to get out of Bangkok to avoid getting noticed by authorities. They worked as a team."

Thai authorities are exchanging information with foreign intelligence agencies which specialise in global terrorism as part of the investigation into the bombing, he said.

Investigators are considering every possible motive for the bombing and have not yet ruled out any of them.

Statements by military leaders and police Thursday - the third day of the manhunt for those responsible - were more cautious.

Initially police gave weight to a revenge attack motive related to Thailand's recent deportation to China of more than 100 Uighur Muslims. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday dismissed this assumption.

On Tuesday, the day after the bombing, police said the suspect was a foreigner. But yesterday Col Winthai Suvaree, the military spokesman, said: "Security agencies have worked with intelligence agencies from allied countries and have come to the same preliminary conclusion that the incident is unlikely to be linked to international terrorism."

Police also said initially the bomb's components were similar to those used overseas and not in the three southernmost provinces.

Pol Gen Somyot said, however, the prime suspect caught in CCTV camera images might have disguised himself as a foreigner to mislead police.

"The man caught on CCTV is just another suspect. We still cannot determine if he is a foreigner," he said.

"I believe this network may be linked with people inside Thailand."

Pol Gen Somyot also said a billionnaire, who asked not to be named, offered another million baht in addition to the one million-baht reward for information earlier offered by the national police chief.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon Thursday again played down reports that the bombing may be linked to international terrorism.

There is no evidence that foreigners were involved, and anyone could have disguised themselves as foreigners, he said.

Gen Prawit also said there was no need to ask experts from other countries to help with the investigation into the blast.

Police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri said police have asked Interpol for information on the man in the yellow T-shirt suspected of planting the bomb at the Erawan shrine. The explosion killed 20 people and injured 130.

Earlier Thursday police sought to interview two men - wearing a red, and white shirt respectively - about the incident. 

Footage from a CCTV camera showed the two men standing in front of the suspected bomber when he laid down his backpack inside the compound of the Erawan shrine.

Seconds earlier the man in the red shirt had sat on the bench where the bomb was later placed. The red-shirted man got up and the suspected bomber in a yellow shirt sat down before leaving his backpack there.

However, police investigators say the two men are not likely to be involved with the explosion as when the bomb went off the men, based on CCTV footage, were apparently spooked by the sound and jumped to seek cover.

Late yesterday, police said the two men had made contact with them to deny any link to the blast and that they were going to turn themselves in to authorities soon. 

Police questioned the tuk-tuk driver who took the suspected bomber to the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel on Monday evening.

The driver, 37, was identified as Suchart Panngam. He told police he took the suspect from Hua Lamphong railway station. The suspect told him to take him to "Chula" (Chulalongkorn University) but later used a map on his mobile phone to find directions to the hotel. 

Police also questioned a motorcycle taxi driver identified as Kasem Suksuwan, who picked up the suspected bomber at Soi Mahatlekluang, which is not far from the Erawan shrine after the explosion.


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