Bangkok bomb blast: authorities wrestle with several theories

Published August 19, 2015
Bangkok: Traffic resumes near the Erawan shrine, the site of Monday’s deadly blast.—Reuters
Bangkok: Traffic resumes near the Erawan shrine, the site of Monday’s deadly blast.—Reuters

BANGKOK: Authorities in Thailand have put forward several theories on the motive behind Monday’s deadly bomb blast at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong tourist area in which 20 people were killed and more than 120 injured. One of the probabilities being debated is whether China’s Uighur ethnic group was behind the bombing.

Another motive could have been a desire to destabilise the military-led government.

In an attempt to get credible evidence, Thailand’s police chief, Gen Somyot Poompunmuang, has urged the public to help investigators find a key suspect in the deadly explosion, the worst in Bangkok in recent memory.

“I would like to ask the motorcycle-taxi driver who picked up the suspect seen in [closed-circuit TV] footage to give information to police as this suspect was seen taking a ride to Silom Road [after the explosion]. I also ask anyone who took photos or videos around the time of the explosion to help by providing data and leads to police. Everyone has to be the eyes and ears for law enforcement.

“We will keep your identity secret and provide maximum protection to you. At this stage, we have no conclusions yet based on what we saw in the CCTV footage. The suspect could have changed his facial features or put on makeup to deceive investigators, but we want to get this person for questioning first.”

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan chaired a meeting with the police chief and other top security officials on Monday to assess the situation, after which Somyot, the police chief, said his force and the army would set up more checkpoints and step up precautionary checks and patrols in Bangkok.

Somyot advised the media to be careful in presenting pictures and videos of the incident that had the potential to damage the country’s image in the eyes of the international community.

In reply 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 to substantiate this theory.

However, if it was confirmed that the suspect was a foreigner, police would work with immigration officials to ensure he did not leave the country. He added that police would examine whether there were similarities between the Monday blast and previous ones in southern Thailand, as well as an explosion in Bangkok in which the suspect was an Iranian.

Meanwhile, another bomb was thrown into the Chao Phraya River under a pier near Bangkok’s business district on Monday afternoon, but caused neither casualties nor damage.

Police said there were several CCTV cameras in the area and footage would be reviewed to find leads concerning the suspects.

EFFECT ON TOURISM: Thailand is expected to lose a big number of inbound tourists as the Bangkok explosion will significantly damage the country’s image, hitting the hospitality sector hard, major tourism associations and authorities said.

Efforts to restore the confidence of tourists, especially those from “sensitive” nations, such as China, Japan, and Europe, must be put in place immediately, they said.

Many authorities and business operators in the tourism sector have immediately stepped up security measures in an attempt to ensure that travellers and other customers are safe.

Suparerk Soorangura, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said the bomb blast would cause fear among foreign tourists.

“Incoming bookings for the high season (October to February) will definitely fall. And if the government were to declare a state of emergency, the entire industry would suffer even more,” he warned.

Charoen Wangananon, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said it was too early to ascertain the impact of the attack on the sector, but the incident had already damaged the country’s image and the confidence of tourists.

The association strongly urges the government to restore confidence in a bid to reclaim tourists for the remainder of the year, he said.

Before this week’s bomb outrage, Thailand was aiming for 28 million international arrivals, up from 25 million last year, while total revenue target from the international and domestic tourism markets was to the tune of two trillion baht.

The tourism sector constitutes about 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

By arrangement with Bangkok’s The Nation/Asian News Network

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2015

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