Thai police previously suspected that the alleged “mastermind” behind the Erawan shrine bomb attack last month, a 27-year-old Chinese national from Xinjiang province, had fled to Bangladesh a day before the bombing and later escaped to China.
This story line has now changed, with police saying today that the key suspect had not traveled to Beijing but had changed his travel itinerary in the last minute to “cover up his escape route” and flown to Istanbul in Turkey.
The Bangkok Post quotes the Thai national police spokesman as saying today:
He departed Dhaka on Aug 30 for Delhi by Jet Airways. From Delhi, he continued his travel to Abu Dhabi, and from Abu Dhabi he travelled on Aug 31 to Istanbul. This is his final destination. It’s clear.
The report adds that the key suspect’s alleged escape to Turkey
bolstered the theory that those behind the blast are Uighurs from the Chinese region of Xinjiang who have close ties to Turkey. Several of the 12 bombing suspects for whom arrest warrants have been issued are believed to be Turkish.
Turkey has denied reports that the suspect had fled to Istanbul.
In related news, police in Malaysia have conceded today that they have arrested three people “a few days ago” in connection with the deadly bomb attack. They are reportedly a Pakistani man and two Malaysian nationals, one of whom is said to be a woman.
Malaysian police gave no further details on the identities of the three arrested suspects and “had no plans to hand them over to Thai police” yet. “We are working together with our Thai counterparts. Let us investigate the matter first,” the Malaysian national police chief has been quoted as saying.
A Thai police spokesman reportedly alleged that the suspects arrested in Malaysia were “part of a human smuggling gang and that the bombers might have sneaked into Thailand with the help of the gang.”
There had been rumours earlier this week that the suspect in the yellow shirt (who is accused of having planted the bomb at the Erawan shrine) and another man in a blue shirt (who police believe dumped a second bomb in a canal near a pier at Bangkok’s Chao Praya river) were among those taken into custody.
Other, equally unconfirmed reports suggested that the main bombing suspect seen on surveillance cameras wearing a yellow T-shirt had “fled to Pakistan”.
UPDATE – For the first time, Thai authorities now also acknowledge that the bombing was most likely related to the trafficking of Uighur Muslims from China to Turkey and Thailand’s controversial deportation of 109 Uighurs to China in early July. The Bangkok Post reports:
Police believe Abudureheman Abususataer, the suspected mastermind behind last month’s Erawan shrine bombing, led a transnational network trafficking Chinese Uighurs that was disrupted by Thailand’s people-smuggling crackdown.
The national police chief is quoted as saying that the bomb attack at the Erawan shrine and the failed bombing at the Sathorn pier a day later were directly connected to a mob attack on the Thai consulate-general in Istanbul early July by angry right-wing Turkish groups:
Both stem from Turkish anger over Thailand’s forced repatriation of 109 Uighur Muslims to China in July.
Thailand disrupted the network’s movement of the migrants when it captured them (…) before deporting them blindfolded and under armed guard.
Put simply, we destroyed their business.