I lived next to Erawan Shrine bomb suspects
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I lived next to Erawan Shrine bomb suspects

Neighbour recalls odd behaviour

Accused: Erawan Shrine bombing suspect Adem Karadag is escorted by police. Photo: Jiraporn Kuhakan
Accused: Erawan Shrine bombing suspect Adem Karadag is escorted by police. Photo: Jiraporn Kuhakan

The former next-door neighbour of four people implicated in the fatal Erawan Shrine bombing on Aug 17, 2015, has exclusively revealed to the Bangkok Post details of their activities and behaviour prior to the arrest of two of them.

Two are currently being tried in Bangkok. The other two are believed to be in hiding in Cambodia, where authorities have been asked by Thailand to hunt them down. The case of the duo on trial has not yet finished.

Businessman Mr X, 32, who wishes to keep his identity secret in case of repercussions, from Kashmir in India, said his suspicions were aroused because of their unusual behaviour. He did not tell police because he did not want to implicate possibly innocent people, a fact he now regrets given the fatalities and dreadful injuries that occurred.

Closing in: Police search Pool Anant Apartment in Bangkok’s Nong Chok district. Photo: Pattanapong Hirunard

The Royal Thai Police said that three kilogrammes of TNT had been stuffed in a pipe and left under a bench near the outer rim of the grounds surrounding the shrine, and that an electronic circuit suspected to have been used in the attack was found 30 metres from the scene. Surveillance footage showed a suspect leaving a backpack at the scene shortly before the explosion.

No one has yet taken responsibility for the attack, which was thought to have targeted Thailand's tourism sector and economy, but there has been a range of inconsistencies in the statements of Thai authorities about those arrested and the reasons behind it.

The government has at times suggested the bombers acted to avenge a crackdown on their human trafficking network, to take revenge for Thailand's deportation of a group of Uighurs back to China in July 2015, to strike a blow for the insurgents fighting the government in the deep South, or for reasons related to domestic politics. The government has implicated a range of other suspects in the bombing, mostly Thai opponents of the military regime.

Most of the victims of the explosion were tourists visiting the shrine. The Royal Thai Police reported that 20 people died and 125 had been injured. The dead included six Thais, five Malaysians, five mainland Chinese, two from Hong Kong (including one British national resident in Hong Kong), one Indonesian and one Singaporean. In addition, citizens of Japan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, the Philippines, Qatar and Taiwan were among those injured.

All of the 14 non-Thai fatalities, from Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore were ethnic Chinese.

"I just could not believe such an atrocity could occur in Bangkok," said Mr X.

The food marketer was picked up by the army because he was seen on his condominium's CCTV visiting the alleged suspects' studio apartment in Min Buri a few times. At one stage during his interrogation it was suggested by an army chief he was the mastermind behind the atrocity because of his "obvious intelligence".

However, he maintains a well-dressed Malaysian who visited the four a few days every month was the financier and mastermind behind the plot that also involved a bomb being dropped into the Chao Phraya River.

Mr X was held at Bangkok's army barracks for two days and two nights and interrogated by army intelligence officers before being released. He said he was treated well and freed after a check with Interpol and Indian intelligence services gave him the all-clear. Ironically, his father was an intelligence officer who left rift-torn Indian Kashmir with his family because of the dangers he was exposed to.

On one occasion, the admittedly social Mr X was in the neighbours' apartment when one of them suspiciously and noticeably covered items under the bed at the condominium at Maimuna Garden Homes, Ratuthit Road, KM5, opposite Madina mosque in Min Buri.

He had won a degree of their confidence despite their reserved nature by being persistent in attempting to befriend them. For example, he shared a lot of food with them and gave them fruit during Ramadan. They also enjoyed a feast he put on for them in his own apartment, from which he has now moved. They then "opened up" and claimed to be from Turkey, earning a living selling Chinese mobile phones in Thailand, although he never saw any in their home.

Mr X did not believe them because they exhibited strong Chinese characteristics such as eating noodles with chopsticks.

He put their low-key behaviour down to the suspicion they were in the country illegally, perhaps evading justice from another country, probably communist China, where there is a difficult relationship with Muslim Uighurs in western Xinjiang province and where many want independence from Beijing, which controls an avowedly atheist state and is paranoid about insurrection.

Mr X also noticed the four never used their air conditioning, assuming it was to save money, but kept a window open while concealing anything going on indoors by fixing a curtain to block the view.

Adem Karadag, 31, was identified as the bomber on Sept 26, 2015, while being held in police custody, based on his own confession as well as other evidence.

In February 2016, Mr Karadag, also known as Bilal Mohammed, retracted his earlier confession that his lawyer said was a result of torture. His co-defendant, Mieraili Yusufu, 26, also denied the charges.

It must be stressed that those on trial -- Mr Yusufu, who was caught while trying to enter Cambodia by land after a distinguishing mark on his neck was identified, and his alleged accomplice Mr Karadag -- have been charged with committing the bombing but a court has yet to reach a verdict.

Mr X's suspicions were further aroused when one day before the bombing and for the next few days when the lights in their apartment were off for the first time in six months as he returned home from work.

Mr Karadag, who also rented another apartment in Nong Chok, was arrested after his landlord tipped off police. He reportedly led them to the Min Buri apartment where chemicals, ball bearings and other equipment used in the Erawan bombing were found.

Mr X spoke to the mysterious Malaysian on occasion because his English was good and he was "very sophisticated, very well dressed". He only knew him as Ahtisham.

"I think he was financing them. It never occurred to me to go to the police because I could not imagine something like this could happen in Bangkok, a place I love because people are so nice. I now regret not doing so because lives were lost and a sacred place was desecrated. I just thought they had something to hide. They even treated me to a very good barbecue after we became friends."

Mr X has declined requests from other Thai newspapers and from a Japanese reporter, perhaps looking to make mischief with Chinese dissidents. He has since moved and runs a business in Bang Na.

"I cooperated with the Thai police and army. I am glad about what I did if it helps bring the actual perpetrators to justice for committing such an inhumane act," he said.

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