BANGKOK: Thailand’s police chief on Friday insisted his officers were making “a lot of progress” in the hunt for the Bangkok shrine bomber despite the lack of arrests and mystery over the attackers’ motives.
Monday’s blast killed 20 people, mostly Asian visitors, leaving police scrambling to find the assailants and sending shockwaves through the nation’s vital tourism sector.
Speaking after a memorial for the dead at the scene of the unprecedented attack on Thailand, national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said the bomb was an attempt to stoke fear and uncertainty in the capital.
“The aim is to discredit the government and create a climate of fear to deter tourists,” he told reporters.
But he defended the handling of the case despite days of confusing and sometimes contradictory statements from senior police and junta officials.
“There’s a lot of progress [in the case], but I can’t disclose everything,” he said.
Police are convinced the attack was planned and coordinated by a network.
But there is still one prime suspect – a bespectacled man in a yellow t-shirt described in his arrest warrant as a foreigner.
Thailand has asked Interpol for help in finding the man, who was captured on CCTV calmly placing a backpack under a bench at the Hindu Erawan shrine minutes before the blast.
“I want to reaffirm that the bomb exploded from the backpack which was placed by the bench by the suspect,” national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters.
“But we cannot disclose the footage because it is too gruesome,” he said.
It is not known if the suspect has already fled the country, while authorities have also openly questioned whether he could be half-Thai or a Thai wearing a disguise.
With rmours swirling, Prawut also denied media reports police were hunting for a man with an Islamic name.
“We don’t have his [the suspect’s]name and even if I did why would I tell you?” he said.
But he has previously said they are looking to speak to a woman in a black top seen on the CCTV footage at the shrine.
Both the police and junta have at various times ruled out the possibility that a global terror network carried out Monday’s bombing, but have later appeared to backtrack or add caveats to their comments.
After confusion over recent statements, police chief Somyot also said he would restrict how often his subordinates speak to the press.
Internal politics, insurgents in Thailand’s south, global terror networks and even private disputes have all come under the microscope as police game the likely perpetrators.
Thai media outlets had also cast suspicion on militants from China’s Uighur community, a group that faces cultural and religious repression.
The Erawan shrine is enormously popular among ethnic Chinese visitors from across Asia, but the junta has said tourists from China were not the target.
Thailand has endured a decade of political unrest, but many analysts say that the choice of target and ferocity of the attack makes it highly unlikely any Thai groups with a history of violence were involved.
Meanwhile there have so far been no public links made to Muslim rebels from the country’s southernmost provinces, where an insurgency has killed more than 6,400 people, mostly civilians — nor have there been any claims of responsibility.
Their fight for greater autonomy is highly localized and neither the type of bomb nor the target fits their profile.