Manhunt launched for suspect in Thai shrine blast

BANGKOK: Thai authorities have launched a manhunt for a suspect seen on closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage near a famous shrine in the capital where a bomb blast killed 22 people, nearly half of them foreigners.


The man suspected of the bombing at the Erawan shrine was seen in grainy CCTV footage entering the compound with his backpack on, sitting down against a railing and then slipping out of the bag’s straps.

lad in a yellow shirt and with shaggy, dark hair, the young man was then seen standing up and walking out holding a blue plastic bag and what appears to be a mobile phone. The backpack was left by the fence as tourists milled about.

“That man was carrying a backpack and walked past the scene at the time of the incident. But we need to look at the before and after CCTV footage to see if there is a link,” National police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told a news conference.

The officer believed the suspect could be either Thai or foreign.

A bomb exploded at a popular shrine in central Bangkok during evening rush hour on Monday, killing at least 18 people, injuring more than 100 and leaving body parts strewn across the streets of a neighborhood full of five-star hotels and upscale shopping malls.

Jangling nerves in the city on Tuesday, a small explosive was thrown from a bridge towards a river pier, sending a plume of water into the air, but no one was injured.

The government said the attack during the evening rush hour in the capital’s bustling commercial hub was aimed at destroying the economy. No one has claimed responsibility.

Authorities earlier said they had not ruled out any group, including elements opposed to the military government, for the bombing at the shrine, although officials said the attack did not match the tactics of Muslim insurgents in the south.

Police were at the blood-splattered site on Tuesday, some wearing white gloves and carrying plastic bags, searching for clues to an attack that could dent tourism and investor confidence.

They said the latest death toll was 22, with at least 123 people wounded.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also referred to the man as a suspect without giving details. He said there were “still anti-government groups out there,” although he did not elaborate.

“Police are not ruling out anything including Thai politics and the conflict of ethnic Uighurs who, before this, Thailand sent back to China,” Somyot said.

The Erawan shrine, on a busy corner near top hotels, shopping centres, offices and a hospital, is a major attraction, especially for visitors from East Asia, including China.

Four Chinese, including two people from Hong Kong, were among the dead, China’s Xinhua news agency said. A British resident of Hong Kong, two Malaysians, a Singaporean, an Indonesian and a Filipino were also killed, officials said.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of members of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, about 109 of whom were forcibly returned to China last month by Thailand and a large Muslim minority have fled unrest in China’s western Xinjiang region, where hundreds of people have been killed, prompting a crackdown by Chinese authorities.

Scores of people were wounded, including many Asian tourists. China urged Thailand to thoroughly investigate the blast and punish the perpetrators.

The blast comes at a sensitive time for Thailand, which has been riven for a decade by a sometimes violent struggle for power between political factions in Bangkok.

An interim parliament hand-picked by a junta that seized power in a 2014 coup is due to vote on a draft constitution next month.

The Thai baht fell 0.57 per cent to 35.57 baht, its weakest in more than six years, on concern the bombing may scare off visitors. Thai stocks fell as much as 3 percent.

Thailand fears blow to tourism industry
Tourism is one of the few bright spots in an economy that is still struggling, more than a year after the military seized power.

It accounts for about 10 percent of the economy and the government had been banking on record arrivals this year following a sharp fall in 2014 because of protests and the coup.

Occasional small blasts over recent years have been blamed on one side of the domestic political divide or the other. In February, two pipe bombs exploded outside a shopping mall in the same area as the Monday blast but caused little damage.

Thai forces are also fighting a low-level Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist country’s south, but the separatists have rarely launched attacks outside their heartland.