Hunt on for 'BACKPACK MAN'

national August 19, 2015 01:00

By THE NATION

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POLICE yesterday were still hunting for a man in a yellow T-shirt who was captured by a security camera putting his backpack under a bench at the Erawan Shrine and leaving the scene shortly before the deadly bomb exploded on Monday night.



A motorcycle taxi man working on Soi Mahatlekluang, nearby, told police that the suspect hired him for a drop to the mouth of Silom Soi 9, after which the man walked into the soi. 

In the footage, the suspect with curly hair was seen carrying a backpack and walking into the shrine compound at 6.53pm. He sat on a bench, put the backpack underneath it, before standing up to take photographs. He was then seen walking out of the area into Ratchadamri Road without his backpack at 6.57pm. The bomb exploded one minute later.
Police have posted the suspect’s image captured from the security camera in a move to find him. They are also seeking footage from other cameras to trace his whereabouts. 
As of press time yesterday, 20 people were declared dead, including 11 foreigners, with dozens of others injured. 
National police chief Pol General Somyot Poompanmuang, meanwhile, revealed that the suspect may have been wearing a wig to disguise himself and was not acting alone. However, he would not confirm if the suspect was a foreigner or not. 
In a related development, an Australian national reported to police after social-media posts said he looked like the suspect. He was not detained. 
A report also said that a foreigner with curly hair had been taken in for questioning at Suvarnabhumi Airport. 
Authorities have put forward several theories on the motive behind Monday’s deadly blast at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong tourist area – including retaliation by a member of the Uighur ethnic group.
Another motive could have been a desire to destabilise the military-led government.
In a bid to get credible evidence, Somyot has urged the public to help investigators find the suspect in the deadly explosion, the worst in Bangkok in recent memory.
“We will keep your identity secret and provide maximum protection. At this stage, we have no conclusions yet based on the CCTV footage. The suspect could have changed his facial features or put on make-up to deceive investigators, but we want to this person for questioning first.”
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan chaired a meeting yesterday with the national police chief and top security officials to assess the situation, after which Somyot said police and soldiers would set up more checkpoints and step up precautionary checks and patrols in Bangkok to prevent a repeat of the blast.
Somyot said the media should also be careful in presenting pictures and videos of the incident, which could further damage the country’s image in the eyes of the international community.
Responding to a question on whether the attack could have been in retaliation for Thailand’s recent decision to send some Uighur illegal migrants back to China, he said there was no evidence supporting such a possibility at this stage.
PM’s Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said the Uighur minority, has no history of using explosives or operating outside China. 
However, Somyot said that if the suspect was confirmed to be a foreigner, police would work with immigration officials to ensure he is not allowed to leave. He added that police would look at any similarities between the blast on Monday and previous ones in the South, as well as an explosion in Bangkok three years ago in which the suspect was an Iranian.
Meanwhile, another bomb just missed people waiting at the Taksin Bridge Skytrain station and landed in water near the Chao Phraya at Sathorn Bridge Pier at 1.30pm. It caused no casualties or damage. Ratisa Eamraor, a garment vendor near the BTS station, said the bomb exploded in the water about 30 metres from her stall. 
Police said there were several CCTV cameras in the area and footage would be reviewed to find leads concerning the suspects who threw the explosive into the river.
As for the Uighur theory, a police source said surveillance had been recently stepped up as police were told that terrorists could target Chinese tourists in Thailand. However, police have not ruled out other possibilities, including attempts to destabilise the military-led regime.