An unidentified foreign key suspect in the deadly Erawan Shrine bomb attack two weeks ago that killed 20 people was arrested at a budget apartment complex on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok Saturday.
What progress have police made in their investigation, and what do we know?
Who is the Arrested Man?
Identity and nationality of the suspect have not been established yet. The young foreigner is currently being held in military custody and is reportedly not very “cooperative”. He also denies any involvement in the bomb attack.
AFP quote the army chief as saying:
The interrogation is not making progress because the suspect is not really giving useful information.
A fake Turkish passport identified the suspect as 28-year-old “Adem Karadag”. But the Turkish embassy in Bangkok denies that the suspect is a Turkish citizen. Investigators are now reportedly working with “several embassies” and “multiple translators” to confirm the suspect’s identity.
Police do not believe either that the detained man is the bomber himself but part of a larger “network”. The Bangkok Post quotes unnamed police sources as saying that the suspect
believed to have delivered the bomb to the suspect in the yellow T-shirt at Hua Lamphong train station, shortly before the bomber caught a tuk-tuk to the shrine to plant the device.
Police also fear that the bombers may have already “fled the country”. The detained man is believed to have stayed in the country due to his passport problems.
Police Hunt More Suspects
Arrest warrants have been issued for at least three more foreign men of unknown nationalities, and there may be further suspects.
For example, the detained man did not rent five rooms at the apartment building where he was arrested himself as previously reported by the media, but only stayed in one of the rooms. It’s there where police also found a large quantity of bomb-making material; the other four rooms proved to be empty. All five rooms had reportedly been rented by a male Turkish passport holder named as “Ammet Mehmet Emin Ayse” since January this year.
According to the Bangkok Post, residents at the apartment building also told reporters that the suspect “could not speak Thai and mostly kept to himself,” but “sometimes, he and several friends would eat at a local food stall.”
The caretaker of the apartment complex further told investigators that the suspect had moved in “sometime in June, along with another foreigner believed to be Turkish.” The two were reportedly “quiet and mostly stayed inside their room.” Other tenants have been quoted as saying by The Nation:
[One] of them had a dark complexion, coming and going at regular hours, while the other hardly left the room and apparently got a haircut and shaved his beard a few weeks ago.
Arrest warrants have also been issued for three other foreign men who were seen on CCTV visiting the suspect in his room repeatedly. They were traced down to a rented room in a three-storey apartment block in Minburi district, also on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok, that had been rented by a Thai woman only identified as “Mai Sa Loh”.
Police reportedly found “urea-based fertilizer, flash powder and other items that can be used to construct improvised explosive devices” in the vacated room.
The Nation quotes a police source as saying that
investigators believed there were six foreigners involved in the bomb attacks [in total] but so far, they have evidence to seek arrest warrants against three of them.
The identities of the three suspects have not been confirmed yet.
According to The Nation, police have also
obtained pictures of other members of the gang and were checking their identities and nationalities. Immigration officials have been instructed to prevent other suspected gang members from leaving the country.
“No International Terrorism”, Say Police
Thai authorities are playing down any suggestions that the attack was launched by an international terrorist group or specifically targeted Chinese tourists. The national police chief conceded that the key suspect “is a foreigner, but it’s unlikely that he belongs to any international terrorist group.” Instead, the police chief suggested:
Lets just say he is angry and bitter on behalf of his friends and his family. Please don’t make me go deeper into details. But I can say it’s not international terrorism.
Police instead believe the suspect was part of a people-smuggling gang that had been operating in Thailand for years and helped illegal migrants obtain counterfeit travel documents. They suggest the bomb attack was in retaliation for a recent crackdown by Thai authorities and possibly the deportation of Uighur Muslims to China in early July.
A police spokesman told Thai television in a phone interview:
They (the gang) are unsatisfied with police arresting illegal entrants.
Due to the large quantity of bomb-making material found in the suspect’s room, police also believe the group had been planning to launch more attacks.
According to the Bangkok Post, an unnamed “police source close to the investigation” said the suspect was arrested “after investigators spent more than a week sifting through every mobile phone call made within the vicinity” of the blast location around the time of the bombing.
Officers managed to identify three Turkish phone numbers which had activated international roaming services and were in use near the blast site. Police apparently traced one of those phone numbers to the suspect apprehended yesterday.
While authorities are eager to deny any link to known international terrorist groups and won’t even speculate on the suspect’s country of origin, there is obviously a Turkish/Uighur connection in the attack.
Then again, that’s pretty much all the public knows by now.
UPDATE (September 3) – According to the Bangkok Post, the suspect identifies himself as Bilal Mohammed, 47. His information has apparently not yet been verified though, and his nationality remains unknown.
UPDATE (September 4) – Now the suspect also seems to go by the unverified Arab name of Mohammad Binlaturk, which may, or may not, be his real name. As previously, he appears to be only little communicative and his nationality (he claims he’s Turkish) remains a riddle. Khaosod English reports:
Nearly a week after his arrest, not much is known about the man. Uncertainty even remains over his name. A fake Turkish passport on him said he was Adem Karadag. A top police official today used that name and also identified him by the name he is said to use himself: Mohammad Binlaturk.
In the absence of further evidence against Karadag/Mohammed/Binlaturk, the suspect has so far only been charged with illegal possession of explosives.
UPDATE (September 14) – The suspect named as “Turkish national Adem Karadag, also known as Mohammed Bilaturk” now claims he has nothing to do with the bombing and only arrived in Thailand a week after the attack.
According to Khaosod English, Karadag said through his lawyer he had traveled from Turkey to Thailand via Laos and Vietnam, having paid a broker for his passage who happens to be the same man as the alleged “mastermind” behind the bomb attack. His final destination, he alleges, was Malaysia where he wanted to work as a chauffeur.
Karadag claims he arrived in Thailand a week after the attack, on August 24, and his broker “ordered him to remain inside an apartment building where security forces discovered him among fake Turkish passports and bomb-making materials” five days later. According to his lawyer, Karadag claims he has “nothing to do” with the stuff found in the room.