On Monday, 17 August at 6:55 pm, an IED exploded at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which is on the corner of Phloen Chit and Ratchadamri Roads. It is a bustling area with modern shopping centers, hotels, coffee shops, eateries, and major businesses.
The information flow on the attack continues to develop, daily. Below is a bullet point list of what is known about the bombing to date:
- The bomb was a pipe bomb, 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of TNT, with ball bearings packed in as shrapnel. The blast radius was approximately 30-50 meters.
- On Tuesday, 18 August, another bomb exploded, this one at the Sathorn pier on the Chao Phraya River under the Taksin BTS Skytrain station. The bomb was either thrown from an above bridge, or it was kicked into the water well before detonation by a man seen on CCTV acting suspiciously.
- The device harmlessly exploded in the water, injuring no one, but it sent people scattering, nevertheless. Forensics said this bomb was similar and/or identical to the Erawan Shrine bomb.
- The main suspect is “the man in the yellow shirt,” a person seen on CCTV placing what was presumed to be a backpack with the bomb in it under the bench on which he was sitting. The backpack location was later proven to be the epicenter of the blast. Police say he is a foreigner. Some reports say the current prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, asserted that the suspect was a northerner, passively labeling him as part of the Red Shirt opposition. Those comments were quickly walked back by the press, though some pundits continue to criticize the pm for this.
- The investigation is slowing, however, and the Thai have admitted as such. The Irish Times quotes National Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang as saying, “We don’t have modern tools to support our work …we have difficulties with technology and data…we have to wait for co-operation from abroad to come and help with this equipment.”
Three other potential suspects, two men and a woman, have so far been cleared by authorities as having nothing to do with the bombing.
To date, potential suspects include, but are not limited to, the groups listed below. While there are several reasons for each group to carry out the attacks, there are also multiple reasons they would not have. The situation remains unclear.
- A faction of the southern insurgents possibly frustrated with a lack of progress on peace or talks or perhaps inspired by ISIS and its rapid advances in the Arab world.
- A faction of the “Red Shirts” frustrated by the sitting government and their lack of political traction.
- A regional or international terror group such as Jemaah Islamiyah, East Indonesian Mujahidin, al Qaeda, or ISIS that might want to demonstrate their prowess by striking a country in Southeast Asia perceived as “mistreating Muslims.” Any of these type groups could have also carried out the attack on behalf of Thailand’s southern insurgents as well.
- Uighurs from western China have been mentioned as possible suspects because of the recent deportation of a large group of them back to China. It could be that Thailand offered them political sanctuary, and then the government reneged, triggering a violent revenge reaction. If this was the case, it might have been that a key Uighur rebel leader was sent back to face certain imprisonment – and doom – at the hands Chinese authorities. The Thai embassy in Turkey was reportedly ransacked over the deportation, so anger at Bangkok over the issue was indeed high.
- Some other person or group such as a mentally disturbed individual, an organized crime group, etc.
Regardless of who carried out the attack, the fact remains that Thailand just witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks it has ever seen, and it is certainly metro-Bangkok’s most heinous terror attack. Accordingly, the current government is now under pressure to demonstrate that it has professional investigative and national security prowess in tracking down the culprits. The public will demand it, and so will the international community. Thailand is a major international business hub and tourist destination.
Additionally, scores of bombings in Bangkok, beginning in New Year’s Eve 2006, have gone unsolved. Thailand is approaching a time and place where its inability to solve these and similar crimes will injure its international reputation to a high degree.
Sources and further reading:
“Lack of equipment slowing Bangkok bomb inquiry – police,” The Irish Times, 23 August 2015.
“Poso terrorists may be linked with Bangkok bombing,” Asia One, 18 August 2015.
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