Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-och said Tuesday that authorities are hunting a male suspect seen on CCTV footage near the scene of a bombing that claimed at least 20 lives in Bangkok and wounded 125 more.
The footage on the closed circuit cameras installed at the Erawan shrine shows a young suspect wearing a yellow T-shirt and blue Bermuda shorts entering its premises carrying a backpack and holding a plastic bag in his left hand.
He is next seen standing with a group of youths near a bench inside the shrine compound. When one of them leaves the bench, he sits there, removes the bag, places it casually beneath it and leaves.
As he comes out, there is no backpack with him. He is seen carrying only the plastic bag.
The suspect could be a Thai or a foreigner, police said.
Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday branded Monday’s bombing the “worst ever attack” on Thailand, as he gave the first indications of who authorities believed were responsible.
“Today there is a suspect… we are looking for this guy,” Prayut told reporters adding that the man was believed to be from an “anti-government group based in Thailand’s northeast” — the heartland of the kingdom’s Red Shirt movement that opposes the military junta.
Bangkok has endured years of deadly political violence, with the junta ruling the nation since May last year after toppling the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
The Red Shirts are a grassroots network of rural and urban poor who are loyal to Yingluck and her self-exiled brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist politician who was a previous prime minister.
Prayut’s comments suggest the investigation is shifting towards groups loyal to the Shinawatras, rather than Muslim militants from the country’s far south where a deadly insurgency has raged for more than a decade.
No one had claimed responsibility for the assault. But Thai authorities said extensive CCTV footage had been of help at the start of their investigation.
Pipe bomb misses target
Those behind Monday’s blasts may be planning fresh strikes in the city.
An indication of this came when a pipe bomb, similar to the one used in Monday’s incident but of much less intensity, was tossed by someone from Taksin road and rail bridge near the BTS Saphan Taksin station at Sathorn pier around 1.20pm Tuesday.
But instead of hitting the target, probably a passing boat, the device struck a post and fell into the Sathorn canal sending up a spray of water, Bangkok Post reports.
Divers were called and, after a search, they recovered metal fragments of the bomb from the water.
National police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang said both the incidents could be the work of two or more people who probably committed the act after disguising themselves.
He said in both devices, TNT was stuffed into a metal pipe with a timed fuse.
“I can tell you now that there are not only foreigners involved in the incidents but some Thais must have taken part,” the police chief told the paper.
Foreigners, he said “could not have … walked their way onto the (Taksin] bridge. There must be Thai people involved whose hearts are not Thai.”
Tuesday’s incident did not affect the movement of boats.
Sathorn pier is a major terminal and also a major tourist stop, especially for Chinese tour groups.
PM’s assurance to tourists
Junta leaders are viewing Monday’s explosion as a planned attack to damage the country’s tourist industry, which is a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy, and to tarnish the government’s reputation.
“(The attackers) had the clear target of destroying our economy and tourism…. and discrediting the government,” Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters Monday.
Thailand’s baht currency slumped to a more than six-year low Tuesday and shares fell over concerns the attack could damage the tourism sector.
Meanwhile, Chan-o-cha assured foreigners in Thailand that safety measures are in place to avert such incidents.
“The government will protect lives and properties of all foreign expats, tourists in the Kingdom,” he said in a television address.
Security has been tightened across the country. Foot patrolling has been intensified at tourist locations and important venues.
The prime minister also announced a compensation of up to Bt100,000 for each injured and up to Bt300,000 for each of the deceased.
Fourteen foreigners were killed in Monday’s blast. Among them were two Hong Kong residents, three Chinese nationals, four Malaysians, two Indonesians, a Singaporean, a Filipino and a Briton.
HK raises red alert
In the aftermath of the explosion, the Hong Kong government has raised a red travel alert for the Thai capital, while the amber warning for the rest of the country remains.
A government spokesman said Hongkongers intending to travel to Bangkokg should change their plans and avoid non-essential travel.
Though Australia did not raise a similar alert, officials advised their citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in Thailand.
“Australians should continue to go to Thailand because the object of the sorts of people who let off bombs in crowded cities is to scare us from being ourselves and we should never be intimidated by that,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
In Manila, the foreign ministry advised Filipinos in Bangkok “to remain calm and to observe necessary precautions to ensure their personal safety”.
Singapore also urged its citizens in Bangkok “to take the necessary safety precautions”.