Police arrest Erawan blast suspect
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Police arrest Erawan blast suspect

A Royal Thai Police photograph taken with a mobile phone shows a suspect named on a Turkish passport as Adem Karadag after his arrest in an apartment in Nong Chok district of Bangkok on Saturday. (EPA Photo)
A Royal Thai Police photograph taken with a mobile phone shows a suspect named on a Turkish passport as Adem Karadag after his arrest in an apartment in Nong Chok district of Bangkok on Saturday. (EPA Photo)

Police are holding a man with a fake Turkish passport on explosives possession charges following an arrest in the first possible breakthrough in the deadly Ratchaprasong bombing two weeks ago.

National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang said the "foreigner" whose nationality has not yet been confirmed could face more charges after further investigations.

"Authorities charged him with having explosives in his possession," he said at the scene of the arrest at an apartment building in suburban Nong Chok district of Bangkok on Saturday afternoon.

However, Pol Gen Somyot continued to insist that the Aug 17 attack that killed 20 people was not terrorist in nature. Both the police and the military have been actively discouraging talk of terrorism for fear that it could harm the country's tourism industry. They have also been at pains to avoid even mentioning a country when discussing the case or the possible origin of the suspects.

A Royal Thai Police photograph taken with a mobile phone shows a suspect named on a Turkish passport as Adem Karadag with bomb making material found after his arrest in an apartment in Nong Chok district of Bangkok on Saturday. (EPA Photo)

"He is a foreigner, but it's unlikely that he is an international terrorist. It's a personal feud," Pol Gen Somyot told reporters at Royal Thai Police headquarters during a live broadcast.

"He got angry on behalf of his friends and family members," he added, without elaborating further.

Officers questioned the man at the apartment before whisking him away in a black SUV to an army barracks at an undisclosed location. A Turkish-speaking interpreter was later reported to have been summoned to help with questioning.

Police spokesman Pol Lt Gen Prawut Thavornsiri said at the televised news conference on Saturday evening that the man arrested was 28 years old. "The passport you see is a fake," he added.

A bad fake, according to a reporter who examined the document and noted that it had two expiry dates and "Istanbul" was misspelled.

Pictures shown of evidence found at the apartment included motorcycle ball bearings that police believed could be used as bomb components and dozens of fake passports.

"We believe that he is part of the same gang [that carried out the Erawan shrine attack]," said Pol Lt Gen Prawut.

A senior military officer told AFP that the man was Turkish.

"He is a Turkish national," the news agency quoted Col Banphot Phunphien, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command as saying.

Pol Lt Gen Srivara Rangsiprammakul, the Bangkok police chief, led Saturday's raid on rooms 412 and 414 on the second floor of the Pool Anant apartment building in Soi Chuam Samphan. The raid was launched after investigators received a tip-off that a man who looked like the suspect shown leaving the Ratchaprasong blast scene was staying there.

About 100 police and soldiers were involved in the operation and they surrounded the apartment building before moving in.

The fake passport seized during Saturday's raid bears two expiry dates instead of an issue and expiry date. (Bangkok Post Photo)

ThaiPBS reported that the suspect first rented room 412 on July 21. A police source who declined to be named told the news agency dpa that the tip came from the landlord, who grew suspicious because the suspect did not speak Thai and rented five rooms on the same floor of the building.

Police said the materials found in the room included 0.5cm ball bearings, the same as the type used in the attack on the Erawan shrine and the attempted bombing at the Sathon pier the following day. Also found were some pieces of metal pipe that could be used to make a bomb, said Pol Lt Gen Prawut.

"Our preliminary investigation shows that he is related to both bombings," he said.

"It is most likely he is related to the bombing at Ratchaprasong," added deputy police chief Chakthip Chaijinda, who will take over the leadership of the force on Oct 1.

The 20 people killed in the Erawan blast included Thais and 14 foreigners, seven of them from mainland China and Hong Kong. More than 100 other people were injured.

Pol Gen Chakthip said it was "not yet clear" whether the man detained was the same as the one in the widely circulated CCTV images of a man in a yellow T-shirt shown leaving a backpack near the shrine minutes before the explosion.

Images circulated on social media showed a Turkish passport bearing the name Adem Karadag, a name later confirmed by a police source.

Pol Lt Gen Prawut was quoted as saying that police did not believe the man being detained was the bomber but had connections to those involved.

Pol Gen Somyot said plainclothes police and volunteers with language skills had been sent to mingle with foreign tourists at places frequented by the suspects and near their accommodations over the past few days.

The information led officers to believe that several people including Thais were involved, Post Today quoted him as saying.

Preliminary investigations had shown that the suspect had travelled in and out of the country since January 2014, he said.

Police had been under heavy pressure for the lack of progress in their investigation of the attack that shocked the country, and numerous theories have been advanced about the perpetrators.

On Friday police Pol Gen Somyot warned against assumptions that the attack might be linked to the country's deportation of Uighur Muslims to China last month.

Speculation about a link mounted after an analyst from IHS-Jane's, a defence analysis company, raised the possibility of the involvement of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish militant group, said to have been angered by the deportation of the 109 Uighurs.

Police officers stand outside the Pool Anant apartment building in Soi Chuam Samphan of Nong Chok district in Bangkok where a man believed linked to the Erawan bombing was arrested on Saturday. (AP Photo).

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