By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Aukkarapon Niyomyat
BANGKOK — A Chinese ethnic Uighur man arrested in Thailand over a bombing that killed 20 people in Bangkok last year denied on Monday charges of murder or involvement in the attack, retracting an earlier confession his lawyer said he was tortured into making.
Adem Karadag, also known as Bilal Mohammed, is due to appear at a military court on Tuesday, along with a second suspect, Yusufu Mieraili, to formally hear the charges. Police said both men had confessed to having a role in the Aug. 17 explosion.
A lawyer for Karadag, said his client was coerced into confessing that he took part in the attack. Most of the victims were foreign tourists, raising concerns that the country's lucrative tourist industry could suffer.
"At the time he was tortured and under pressure. That is why he confessed to the charges against him," lawyer Schoochart Kanpai told Reuters after visiting Karadag in detention.
"He still maintains he has no involvement in this. The only charge he accepts is illegal entry."
Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the junta, doubted whether the two suspects had been tortured while in military custody.
"I am fairly certain nothing happened to the suspects while they were in military custody," he said.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which Thai authorities have said was in retaliation for a crackdown on human smuggling gangs and not a terrorist attack.
But some security experts say the bomb was in retaliation for Thailand's forced repatriation of more than 100 Uighurs to China in July rather than in response to a crackdown on human smuggling gangs.
China has long faced criticism for the perceived harsh restrictions it places on religion and culture in Xingjiang, where the majority of Uighurs live.
The two suspects had first been charged by a military court in November, but neither had accepted or denied the charges because of interpretation issues at that hearing, Schoochart said. They were indicted on 10 charges, including murder and illegal possession of explosives, but not terrorism.
The lawyer did not say whether the second suspect, Mieraili, would also deny the charges against him on Tuesday.
Police have been issued warrants for 17 people in connection with the attack, he said. Fifteen of those wanted are still at large.