Bangkok bomb 'suspect' identified - Thai chief

2015-08-18 06:01
Thai rescue workers carry an injured person after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul, AFP)

Thai rescue workers carry an injured person after a bomb exploded outside a religious shrine in central Bangkok. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul, AFP)

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Bangkok - Thailand's junta chief on Tuesday said authorities are hunting a "suspect" seen on CCTV footage near the scene of a bombing that claimed at least 22 lives in Bangkok and wounded scores more.

"Today there is a suspect who appeared on CCTV but it's not clear... we are looking for this guy," he said, adding the suspect was believed to be from an "anti-government group based in Thailand's northeast" - the heartland of the kingdom's anti-coup Red Shirt movement.

Thai authorities have also not ruled out any group, including elements opposed to the military government. Officials said the bombing did not match tactics used by insurgents in the south.

Eight foreigners were among those killed by the bombing at a popular shrine on Monday evening, an attack that could hurt Thailand's vital tourism industry.

Police teams were deployed to the blood-splattered site early on Tuesday, some wearing white gloves and carrying plastic bags, searching for clues.

"Police are not ruling out anything including [Thai] politics and the conflict of ethnic Uighurs who, before this, Thailand sent back to China," National Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told reporters.

Thailand forcibly returned 109 Uighurs to China last month.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of the Turkic-speaking and largely Muslim minority have fled unrest in China's western Xinjiang region, where hundreds of people have been killed, prompting a crackdown by Chinese authorities. Many Uighurs have travelled through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters there were "still anti-government groups out there" but gave no further details.

Officials have not blamed any group for the bombing at the Erawan shrine, which the government called a bid to destroy the economy. No one has claimed responsibility.

Prayuth said the attack, which took place during rush hour in the capital's bustling commercial hub, was unprecedented in Thailand.

Police Chief Somyot said the blast was caused by a pipe bomb.

National police spokesperson Prawut Thavornsiri said the death toll stood at 22, with 123 people wounded.

Three Chinese were among the dead, China's official Xinhua news agency said. Two Hong Kong residents, two people from Malaysia and one person from the Philippines also died, officials said. Scores of people were wounded, including many from China and Taiwan.

Thailand has been riven for a decade by a sometimes violent struggle for power between political factions in Bangkok.

Occasional small blasts have been blamed on one side or the other. Two pipe bombs exploded outside a luxury shopping mall in the same area in February, but caused little damage.

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

"This does not match with incidents in southern Thailand. The type of bomb used is also not in keeping with the south," Royal Thai Army chief and deputy defence minister General Udomdej Sitabutr said in a televised interview.

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