BANGKOK — As the investigation into Monday’s bomb attack appears stalled, a multi-faith service was held this morning at the site, the rapid reopening of which has put Bangkok’s governor on the defensive over criticism he ordered it scrubbed and reopened too soon.
Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra was present this morning as clerics and spiritual representatives of five religions made merit for the 20 souls killed at at the Erawan Shrine, the cleaning of which the next morning and reopening Wednesday raised alarms about potential loss of evidence from the scene.
“If we didn’t clean, you would criticize me,” Sukhumbhand told reporters today after being asked if the clean-up operation was premature. “Now that I cleaned it, you think I my actions are suspect.”
The decision to clean the site was his, he said, saying it was his duty to order it done.
“If the government did not order us otherwise, we had to do it,” he said. “Think about it: The government didn’t forbid us from cleaning the scene. If I didn’t clean, people will say that Bangkok’s administration is incompetent.”
Officials appear keen on restoring the blasted shrine to its original form as soon as possible. Yesterday city workers cut out the part of the shrine’s railings that were bent by the massive explosion, replacing it with a new one. The blast crater was also filled.
The move was widely panned on social media as being driven by authorities intent on restoring a sense of normalcy rather than collecting all vital evidence from the scene.
This was best illustrated in a BBC report last night that has since gone viral online.
Visiting the Erawan Shrine yesterday, the BBC crew found ball bearings and shrapnel embedded in the wall of the Krung Thai Bank on the other side of Ratchadamri Road, about 45 meters from where the bomb went off.
BBC correspondent Jonathan Head then carried the pieces to the Royal Thai Police headquarters – a short walk from where it was found – to hand in the evidence to police.
With the sun still shining above, officers at the entrance refused him entry, saying “the office is closed.”
Police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told reporters this morning that police will “investigate” the evidence, but added “I am not sure if that reporter [Head] has adequate knowledge about explosives. Police have spent enough time collecting the evidence.”
On Wednesday morning, two days after the attack and several hours after the site was reopened to the public, human remains fell down from a tree. They were later collected by police.
For their part, police this morning tripled the bounty for information leading to the arrest of their chief suspect as their investigation into the attack appears to have stalled out.
Since identifying a prime suspect behind the blast on Tuesday, developments have been limited to tracing his steps immediately before and after the blast, and vague descriptions from witnesses, most of which has been driven by widely disseminated CCTV footage from the shrine.
Criminal investigations in Thailand routinely depend on such CCTV footage, and it’s often the first step in investigations.
Two of three suspected accomplices were cleared of involvement last night, though the third, a woman wearing a black shirt, fell under suspicion because she was seen standing next to the other two in the video.
Meanwhile the official line has vacillated on several points. Statements have at times suggested the attack was instigated by a foreign group aided by a local “network,” only to be walked back.
"According to intelligence reports by the National Security Council, the bombing at Ratchaprasong intersection is not related to foreign terrorists who have infiltrated Thailand,” police chief Somyot said. “However, police have not ruled out any possibility."
It’s also been suggested the lead suspect might be Thai or a foreigner or might be a “light-skinned Arab.” He appears indeterminately Eurasian in an official composite sketch released the day after the attack.
In the face of conflicting accounts and rumors, police have tightened the lid on communication channels, ordering officers not to discuss the case without authorization.
At least 94 witnesses have been interviewed since the attack, according to Police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawuth Thawornsiri.
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