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Sunday 18 March 2018

Bangkok shrine bombing 'unlikely to be linked to international terrorism'

A man lights candles near Erawan Shrine in Bangkok (AP)
A man lights candles near Erawan Shrine in Bangkok (AP)

The bombing of a Bangkok shrine that killed at least 20 people was "unlikely to be linked to international terrorism", Thailand's military junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said.

He also said that Chinese tourists, who were among the victims, were not the "direct target".

"The security agencies have collaborated with intelligence agencies from a lot of countries and have come to the same preliminary conclusion that the incident is unlikely to be linked to international terrorism," he said.

More than 120 people injured in Monday evening's blast at Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist site that is known to attract Chinese visitors.

On Tuesday, police issued an arrest warrant for the prime suspect, describing him as an unidentified "foreign" man.

Four Chinese citizens are among the dead.

A manhunt is under way for a man shown in a security video leaving a backpack at the popular shrine.

Police released a sketch depicting a young man wearing glasses, with black, bushy hair, a fair complexion, prominent nose and thick lips.

Authorities have offered a one million baht (£17,850) reward for information leading to his arrest.

Two other people seen on the video near the man are also considered suspects in Monday's bombing.

The grainy security video shows the man, wearing a yellow T-shirt and shorts, sitting down on a bench at the shrine, taking off a black backpack and leaving it behind as he stands up and walks away.

Time stamps show he left the shrine 15 minutes before the explosion, which struck just before 7pm local time.

The two possible accomplices are seen standing in front of the man, said police spokesman Lt Gen Prawut Thavornsiri.

One of the men was wearing a red shirt and the other was in white. Both are seen leaving the area shortly before the man in yellow also leaves.

At a news conference, Lt Gen Prawut expressed uncertainty about the man's origin, saying the suspect "looks like a foreigner" but "might have been in a disguise and wearing a fake nose" to conceal his identity.

He faces six charges including conspiring to commit premeditated murder and conspiring to commit a bombing that resulted in death and severe injuries.

Lt Gen Prawut told reporters police would continue to scrutinise closed-circuit TV footage of the area from before the blast for clues about suspects.

He said that if the men in red and white shirts were innocent and aware of the suspicions against them, they should report to police.

Two days after the attack, which authorities have called the worst in Thai history, the shrine reopened to the public. No-one has claimed responsibility for the blast at one of the capital's busiest intersections during evening rush hour.

The attack has raised concerns about safety in a city that draws millions of tourists.

Prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha "is worried about the security of people and tourists in Thailand," the police chief said.

Lt Gen Prayuth has called the attack "the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand" and vowed to track down those responsible.

Thai authorities identified six victims as Thai and four as Malaysians, along with four Chinese, two people from Hong Kong including a British citizen, one Indonesian and one Singaporean. Two victims remain unidentified.

A funeral has been held for 45-year-old Waraporn Changtam, one of the victims of the bombing. Her grieving older sister, Sawaros Kumrit, had a message for those responsible for the blast.

"I don't know who you are mad at, but don't take it out on my family," she said, adding that those killed by the bomb "were good people. They were innocent".

Bangkok has seen politically charged violence in the past decade. The deadliest, in 2010, killed more than 90 people in two months and was centred on the same intersection where Monday's bomb went off.

None of those attacks involved a bomb that was intended to produce mass casualties.

Col Suvaree later softened his earlier statement, saying a link to global terrorism had not been ruled out.

"We still have to investigate in more detail," he said.

Police meanwhile said they suspected the plot was planned by a network of at least 10 people.

Officials told reporters that authorities believed those behind the blast must have planned it in advance, maybe a month ahead of time, and probably included a site inspection team, bomb makers, bombers and an escape team.

Police said a reward for clues leading to the suspect's arrest had been doubled to two million baht (£36,000).

A spokesman told reporters that a Thai businessman who wished to remain anonymous had added to the million baht reward set by police on Wednesday.

Thai police said later that they had cleared two suspects in the bomb attack.

The two men were seen in a security video standing in front of the prime suspect at the shrine shortly before the bomb exploded.

Police said one of the men in the video is now known to be a Chinese tourist and the other was his Thai tour guide.

A spokesman said the two men "definitely" are no longer suspects.

A Thai television station issued an apology for dressing up a staffer to look like the suspect and sending him with a news crew to the site of the tragedy to re-enact the event.

After an outcry on social media, Nation Broadcasting president Adisak Limprungpatanakij posted a statement saying Nation TV's management offered its sincere apologies.

He said the plan was made "without consideration for the sensitivity of the public and with disrespect for the dead", and added that the station would consider disciplining those responsible.

Press Association

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