Saturday 24 March 2018

Police arrest suspect in Bangkok bomb attack

Foreigner with fake Turkish passport found with materials to make explosives

Adem Karadag at a police station in Bangkok
Adem Karadag at a police station in Bangkok

Khettiya Jittapong in bangkok

Thai authorities have arrested a foreigner with a fake Turkish passport and bomb-making materials, the first possible breakthrough in the probe into the deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine nearly two weeks ago.

"He is most likely related to the bombing," deputy police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said of the suspect.

The August 17 blast at the Erawan Shrine in one of Bangkok's most popular shopping districts left 20 people dead, including several foreigners, and more than 120 people injured.

The man, Adem Karadag, was arrested this morning in Nong Jok on the outskirts of eastern Bangkok. "We found bomb materials in his apartment," Mr Chaijinda added.

National police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said that authorities had not yet determined his nationality, dismissing reports by local news organisations that he is Turkish. Images of the passport were posted on social media.

"The passport you see is fake," said Mr Thawornsiri. "We don't know if he is Turkish or not." He said authorities planned a televised statement later today.

The blast at the Erawan Shrine was unprecedented in the Thai capital, where smaller bombs have been employed in domestic political violence over the past decade but not in an effort to cause large-scale casualties.

The shrine is a popular tourist destination, particularly with Chinese visitors, who represent an important segment of the lucrative tourist market.

At least six of the dead were from China and Hong Kong. It is located in an area full of upscale shopping malls and five-star hotels.

Soon after the bombing, police released an artist's sketch of a man seen in a security camera video leaving a backpack at a bench, then walking away from the open-air shrine.

A separate camera showed the man, wearing a yellow T-shirt, on the back of a motorcycle taxi leaving the site.

An arrest warrant earlier had described the unknown suspect as a "foreign man," although a military spokesman said a connection to international terrorism seemed unlikely.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it.

Many may overlook the location of this attack, but ultimately it could prove crucial.

The Erawan shrine is a popular spot, a top tourist attraction, and if one really wanted to cause maximum impact, this would be the obvious target.

But Thai culture is Buddhist and values religious tolerance. Such a religious location is not the kind of target any Thai rebel would choose, which suggests to me that those behind this attack may not be Thai.

Such an assertion is not to point fingers at other faiths, but merely to say that if this is about domestic politics, the Erawan shrine is not the place for that particular drama to play out.

The scale of the damage is too much, too great, too messy. If someone wanted to fulfil a domestic agenda, such carnage would be unnecessary.

Thailand has seen incidents in the past where someone might throw a grenade that injures a few people to get their political message across, but that is where it has generally ended.

There are suggestions this could be related to the Muslim separatist conflict in southern Thailand, but the political violence has been limited to the three southern provinces - never the capital.

Others have mentioned the Muslim Uighur minority in China. They are unhappy that Thailand deported Uighur refugees back to China, where the minority complain of persecution, and might have wanted to punish the Thai state, the thinking goes. But we don't know enough at this point to support this theory.

However, international terror networks usually claim responsibility quickly after the incident, which hasn't happened in this instance so far.

And the Thai authorities said the attack was "unlikely" to have been the work of an international terror group.

One thing is clear - this is a failure of the government's intelligence work.

Security is very lax in Bangkok and authorities take it for granted that in a Buddhist country no one would do such a thing.

It has been proven time and time again with anti-monarchy plots that there is no intelligence, simply imagination and scapegoats.

The Thai authorities continue to hint that there could be "internal elements" to the bomb, and seemed to suggest that the Red Shirt movement supporting exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra has been behind the attack.

The government could be taking advantage of this situation to assert its legitimacy and justify staying in power longer.

But none of the theories put forward are totally convincing on the scant information we have so far.

And the sheer scale of this attack threatens to dent confidence in public safety and investor confidence in the economy.

No international militant group has said they carried out the attack.

But neither does it fit with the tactics adopted by domestic players.

If this attack does turn out to be part of a domestic political agenda, it would represent a radical departure.

Sunday Independent

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