BANGKOK — A police investigator told a military court Tuesday how police tracked down the two Uighur men accused of staging a bomb attack that killed 20 people last year.
Lt. Col. Somkiat Ploytubtim took the stand as the first witness to give testimony in the case against the two defendants which opened today – more than a year after Thailand’s worst terror attack – due to long delays in finding an interpreter.
At the start of the trial, Somkiat pointed to the two defendants and identified them as the perpetrators who bombed Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine on Aug. 17, 2015.
Somkiat said that security camera footage and mobile phone signal records supported the state’s claim that one of the two, Adem Karadag, planted the explosives-filled backpack at the popular shrine minutes before the blast.
“So we took him into custody,” said Somkiat, who was an investigator at Lumpini Police Station at the time. Karadag was found in a raid on an east Bangkok apartment with what investigators said was bomb-making equipment.
Police said evidence found in that room also led to the arrest of his alleged accomplice, Yusufu Mieraili, along the Thai-Cambodian border on Sept. 1, 2015.
Both men have said they are not guilty of the charges. Karadag claims he was transiting through Thailand en route to finding a job in Malaysia.
Speaking to a reporter at the courtroom, Yusufu denied the allegations.
“Human rights! I want people to come help us. It’s been one year already,” he said as the guards shoved him away. “I am Muslim. I am innocent.”
Both men have been held at a makeshift prison facility on an army base since their arrests.
Tuesday’s hearing got underway after the court approved two interpreters provided by the Chinese embassy over the objections of the defense.
Providing a glimpse into the most high-profile manhunt operation in years, Somkiat said police started their investigation with CCTV footage and records of phone use in the area of the attack.
Investigators quickly identified a man in a yellow shirt and wig who was seen leaving a backpack under a bench before walking to Lumphini Park, Somkiat said, where he changed his clothes in a public restroom.
Officers then compared moving signals in the vicinity to that of the suspected bomber as seen in the footage, which led them to a particular phone, he said.
The phone was reportedly turned on just as police were monitoring its activity, and investigators matched its location with the Poon Anan apartment in Bangkok’s Nong Chok district. That led to the Aug. 29 raid and Karadag’s arrest.
“I confirm the man I found in the room was the first defendant,” Lt. Col. Somkiat told the judges.
Following the arrest, the investigation soon moved onto raids of other properties, the arrest of Yusufu and warrants issued for more than a dozen other suspects who were never accounted for when the case was announced closed soon thereafter.
Somkiat is scheduled to continue his testimony Wednesday.
He’s one of 447 witnesses to be called, mostly by the prosecution. Schoochart Kanpai, an attorney for Karadag, said the trial will likely conclude by early 2018.