Thai po­lice say sus­pect part of peo­ple-smug­gling gang


Thai po­lice said Sun­day a for­eigner ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the deadly Bangkok bomb­ing was part of a peo­plesmug­gling gang who may have launched an at­tack in re­sponse to a crack­down on their trade.

The uniden­ti­fied for­eigner, who is be­ing held in mil­i­tary cus­tody at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion, was seized dur­ing a Satur­day morn­ing raid on a flat on the eastern out­skirts of Bangkok.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors say he was found with bomb-mak­ing equip­ment and dozens of fake pass­ports.

Na­tional po­lice spokesman Prawut Tha­vorn­siri said of­fi­cers be­lieved the sus­pect was part of a crime group who helped illegal mi­grants ob­tain coun­ter­feit doc­u­ments — and that the bomb at­tack was re­tal­i­a­tion for a re­cent crack­down by Thai author­i­ties.

“They (the gang) are un­sat­is­fied with po­lice ar­rest­ing illegal en­trants,” he told Chan­nel 3 in a tele­phone in­ter­view with­out elab­o­rat­ing how in­ves­ti­ga­tors knew this.

“It’s a net­work that fakes na­tion­al­i­ties and sends them (illegal mi­grants) on to third coun­tries,” he added.

The blast that hit the Erawan shrine in a busy Bangkok shop­ping dis­trict on Aug. 17 was Thai­land’s worst sin­gle mass-ca­su­alty at­tack, killing 20 peo­ple — most of them eth­nic Chi­nese tourists from across Asia.

Thai author­i­ties have played down any sug­ges­tion the at­tack was launched by in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ists or specif­i­cally tar­geted Chi­nese tourists.

Author­i­ties have yet to say what na­tion­al­ity the de­tained man is but they be­lieve he had ac­com­plices for whom they are now search­ing.

Out­side po­lice head­quar­ters Prawut told re­porters that in­ves­ti­ga­tors were sift­ing through more than 1,000 phone num­bers as well as hun­dreds of pass­port pages to track the gang, while DNA sam­ples had also been taken from the sus­pect.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are also work­ing “with sev­eral em­bassies” to as­cer­tain the man’s iden­tity as well as us­ing mul­ti­ple trans­la­tors, he added.

Asked which lan­guages, Prawut con­firmed English but would not be drawn on the oth­ers.

De­fense Min­is­ter Prawit Wong­suwan also told AFP the sus­pect is known to speak some English.

How­ever the sus­pect ap­peared to be re­fus­ing to co­op­er­ate with in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“The in­ter­ro­ga­tion is not mak­ing progress be­cause the sus­pect is not re­ally giv­ing use­ful in­for­ma­tion,” army chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr told AFP.

“We have to con­duct fur­ther in­ter­ro­ga­tions and make him bet­ter un­der­stand so he will be more co­op­er­a­tive — while we have to be care­ful not to vi­o­late the sus­pect’s rights,” he added.

On Sun­day af­ter­noon po­lice searched a flat in a north­east Bangkok sub­urb near the pre­vi­ous day’s raid but no ar­rests were made, an AFP re­porter on the scene said.


Forgery and Smug­gling Hub

Bangkok’s crime groups have long had rep­u­ta­tion for pro­duc­ing coun­ter­feit doc­u­ments, while Thai­land has been a ma­jor re­gional hub for both peo­plesmug­gling and peo­ple-traf­fick­ing.

Po­lice have made no ma­jor re­cent an­nounce­ments about busts against coun­ter­feit­ers.

Ear­lier this year they cracked down on the re­gional peo­ple-traf­fick­ing trade. But that trade cen­ters around im­pov­er­ished Bangladeshi and Myan­mar mi­grants, usu­ally held in jun­gle camps and on boats — a de­mo­graphic un­likely to be rich enough to buy forged pass­ports.

Un­til the re­cent ar­rest the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Erawan shrine bomber had ap­peared un­sure and at times er­ratic.

The man­hunt has fo­cused on a prime sus­pect, de­scribed as a for­eign man, who was cap­tured on se­cu­rity footage wear­ing a yel­low T-shirt and leav­ing a bag at the shrine mo­ments be­fore the blast.

Author­i­ties have not yet said whether they be­lieve the sus­pect now de­tained is the same as the man in the video footage.

Mys­tery has sur­rounded the un­prece­dented bomb blast, for which no group has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Po­ten­tial per­pe­tra­tors named by the po­lice and ex­perts have in­cluded in­ter­na­tional ji­hadists, mem­bers of Thai­land’s south­ern Malay- Mus­lim in­sur­gency, mil­i­tants on both sides of the coun­try’s fes­ter­ing po­lit­i­cal di­vide or some­one with a per­sonal grudge.

Spec­u­la­tion has grown over in­volve­ment by China’s eth­nic Uighur Mus­lim mi­nor­ity — or their co-re­li­gious sym­pa­thiz­ers — fol­low­ing Thai­land’s forced repa­tri­a­tion of more than 100 Uighur refugees last month to an un­cer­tain fate in China.

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