BANGKOK — Thai police have ruled that the bomb attack that killed 20 people in Bangkok last month was an act of revenge against the military government’s deportation of Muslim Uighurs to China.
Coming after weeks of studiously avoiding mention of a Uighur link, police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang said today the perpetrators had two motives for staging the 17 Aug. attack: the recent crackdown on human smuggling networks and the deportation of 109 Uighur refugees in July.
He said the motive for the Erawan Shrine bombing was identical to that of the 9 July storming of the Thai Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by Turkish nationalists angry about the deportation.
“The attack at Ratchaprasong Intersection and the violent incident at the Thai Consulate in Turkey stem from the same reason,” he said.
Until today, officials had reportedly been under orders not to mention Uighurs by name. On Saturday, police pulled a just-issued photograph identifying their 12th suspect as a “Uighur” and again asked the media not to use the word.
It’s not the first time the Chinese Uighur issue has become politically problematic for Thailand.
In March 2014, more than 200 Uighurs were discovered in the south of Thailand. They were en route to Turkey, fleeing alleged persecution in China. They were deported to the People’s Republic at the request of Chinese authorities, who insisted the refugees were their citizens – and were on their way to train in terror camps. Many of the women and children were deported to Turkey, but 109 others were forced to return to China.
Hundreds of Uighur refugees were held at this immigration detention center in Songkhla province. File photo: Matichon, July 2015
Human rights organizations condemned the deportation, arguing they would face mistreatment once back in China, but Thailand’s military government, which came to power in the May 2014 coup d’etat, said it was merely complying with international laws.
Images in Chinese media of the Uighurs loaded onto an airplane for the trip home with hoods over their heads further incensed those sympathetic to their cause.
Speculation over possible links between the Erawan Shrine bombing and the Uighur deportation arose almost immediately after the attack, but Thai officials have been keen to play down the issue, suggesting instead that the incident was revenge for steps taken by authorities against the rampant illegal immigration businesses.
Five suspects including one man under arrest have been identified as Turkish nationals. Another suspect in custody and one at large are Chinese nationals from Xinjiang province, the Uighur homeland.
No one has publicly claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 20 people and injured more than 150, mostly foreign tourists.
Speaking to reporters today, Somyot repeated that Thailand’s crackdown on human smuggling and deportation of the 109 Muslim Uighurs were in accordance with the laws.
“No one should be vengeful toward the Thai government because of that,” the police chief said.
Three Suspects in Malaysia
Somyot also told reporters he has received information from Malaysian authorities that they have apprehended three suspects in connection with the Bangkok bombing.
“Based on the information that they have sent us, these individuals may have assisted the escape of and advised the bomb network,” Somyot said without elaborating.
Deputy police chief Chakthip Chaijinda is scheduled to travel to Malaysia to discuss possible extradition of the three suspects to Thailand, he added.
Six people have been arrested in Thailand in connection to the attack so far: a man now identified by his lawyer as a Turkish national; a man who held a Chinese passport; three women at an apartment building in Bangkok’s Din Daeng district, and a Thai man who hails from the southern border province of Narathiwat.
The self-identified Turkish citizen, Adem Karadag, was arrested with bomb-making materials in an apartment room on 29 Aug. but has denied any link to the devices or the bomb attack, his lawyer told the media yesterday.
“He insisted that he had nothing to do with the materials found at Poon Anan Apartment,” lawyer Chuchart Kanpai said. “The news that the materials at the room belonged to him may have been because of miscommunication.”
However police chief Somyot is adamant that Karadag was involved.
“It’s his right to deny the charges,” he said today. “But we are confident of the evidence that implicates the suspects. Otherwise, the court wouldn’t have issued us the arrest warrant in the first place.”
Clarification: This story has been updated with a more accurate translation of Police Gen. Somyot's statement about the motive behind the attack.
To reach us about this article or another matter, please contact us by e-mail at: [email protected].