Police nab prime bomb suspect
Confusion emerges over arrest location
published : 2 Sep 2015 at 03:47
updated: 2 Sep 2015 at 06:17
newspaper section: News
writer: Wassayos Ngamkham
Police have arrested a foreign man described by authorities as the prime suspect in the bombing of the Erawan shrine that killed 20 people and injured 130.
But inconsistencies emerged Tuesday over the location of the suspect's arrest while senior Thai police admitted to still being baffled over who was behind the bombing of the Erawan shrine on Aug 17 and Sathon pier the next day and their movements after the blast.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the suspect was apprehended while trying to cross the border into Cambodia at Ban Pa Rai in Aranyaprathet district in Sa Kaeo province.
Maj Gen Srisak Poonprasit, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division as well as head of the Burapha task force, said police and soldiers patrolling in Aranyaprathet Tuesday spotted the man about 500 metres from the Thai-Cambodian border.
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He said the man was carrying a backpack, wearing black glasses and a cap and was walking through a forest near Ban Dong Ngu village in tambon Pa Rai en route to Cambodia.
A search of his bag found some clothes including a pair of shorts resembling those worn by the man in a yellow T-shirt who was earlier caught on CCTV camera footage allegedly planting a backpack at the Erawan shrine with a bomb inside.
But police officials in Bangkok and Phnom Penh said the suspect was arrested in Phnom Penh about two days ago.
A member of the police investigation team told the Bangkok Post the suspect was apprehended at Pochengtong International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Turkey.
The suspect was brought to the Cambodian border town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province, opposite Sa Kaeo's Aranyaprathet district, to be handed over to Thai authorities on Tuesday.
He was held for questioning at a military ranger base near the Aranyaprathet border checkpoint before being flown by helicopter to Bangkok for further questioning.
Thai police said the suspect left Thailand via the Aranyaprathet border checkpoint through Poipet for Phnom Penh on Aug 21.
A high-ranking Cambodian police officer told the Phnom Penh Post the man was arrested after Thai officials tipped off their Cambodian counterparts he had fled to Cambodia.
He was transferred into Thai custody via the Poipet border, the Cambodian officer confirmed. "Thailand gave us a tip about this suspect," the high-ranking officer told the Phnom Penh Post.
"They requested our cooperation to arrest him."
A Cambodian police spokesman denied this on Tuesday. "No, we don't have this man in Cambodia," Kirt Chantharith said, responding to the claim. "Cambodian forces have been monitoring the case but we have no idea about such a suspect."
Maj Gen Srisak also denied that the suspect was detained by Cambodian officials and handed over to Thai authorities, insisting that the arrest was carried out in Thailand.
The Cambodian police official told the Phnom Penh Post, however, the arrest and handover had been kept secret because the suspect was "wanted by China". He did not say whether the man was an ethnic Uighur, a Muslim minority group, some of whom are considered terrorists by Beijing for their separatist activities in western China.
A photo of a passport claimed to be held by the suspect went viral on the internet. It was a Chinese passport belonging to a man identified as Yusufu Mieraili, 25, from the region of Xinjiang.
This image of a passport said to be held by the latest detained suspect has gone viral. However, police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said police are checking to find out if it is the actual passport of the suspect.
Xinjiang is home to China's Uighur Muslim minority.
However, Gen Prayut said the man's nationality has yet to be confirmed.
Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri, however, said the photo was not released by Thai authorities but police are checking to see if it is of the prime suspect.
Pol Lt Gen Prawut said the man arrested resembles the suspect wearing the yellow T-shirt who allegedly planted the shrine bomb.
He said police believe the man is a key suspect and part of the network behind the Erawan and Sathon pier explosions.
"Based on examination of the evidence, we can confirm the male suspect we arrested is an important one and is in the same group as the other suspects in the bombings at the two locations," Pol Lt Gen Prawut said.
However, he declined to say whether the suspect was the man in the yellow T-shirt at the Erawan shrine.
Pol Lt Gen Prawut said the suspect was being held without charge under Section 44 of the interim constitution.
A DNA check and other forensics tests will be carried out to establish any links between the suspect and the deadly shrine attack.
"We need all witnesses to identify him and to perform further tests related to existing evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA and photographs," Pol Lt Gen Prawut added.
Meanwhile, the Min Buri Court on Tuesday approved a police request for arrest warrants for three more suspects in connection with the Erawan shrine and Sathon pier explosions.
The three were charged with illegally possessing explosive materials. The first two men were identified as Ali Jolan and Ahmet Bozoglan and are thought to be Turkish.
The third suspect's name was not released.
Four arrest warrants were previously issued for three foreign men and a 27-year-old Thai Muslim woman, Wanna Suansan from Phangnga.
Police have released sketches and a photo of three suspects facing arrest warrants. They are of Ali Jolan, upper left, Ahmet Bozoglan, upper right, and a Turkish man, bottom.