Bangkok bomb attacks: What we know and what we don’t know so far
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Bangkok bomb attacks: What we know and what we don’t know so far

WHAT HAPPENED?

On Monday evening at roughly 7pm, an explosion occurred at the Erawan shrine at the busy Ratchaprasong Intersection in the commercial center of Bangkok. As emergency services and police rushed to the scene, they saw a scene of massive carnage caused by the blast, with several people either injured or killed, vehicles on fire and the shrine itself damaged.

Police have quickly concluded that the explosion was caused by an “improvised explosive device” (IED), thus ruling out an accident. During the investigation, two more bombs were found in close proximity and were defused.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

According to latest official figures, at least 20 people were killed, among them six Thais, four Malaysians, four Chinese, two from Hong Kong, one Singaporean, one Indonesian and two so far unidentified victims. Khaosod English has a more detailed list with short biographies of the victims.

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Image via ThaiPBS.

About 120 people have been injured.

WHO ARE THE SUSPECTS?

On Tuesday, police released CCTV footage of the shrine shortly before the blast, showing a man in a yellow shirt going to the fenced area and dropping a backpack before leaving the scene. Police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters that “the guy is not just the suspect. He is the bomber.”

A warrant for his arrest – specified as an “unnamed foreigner” – was issued by authorities Wednesday evening. It is not unusual for Thai courts to issue arrest warrants for suspects that haven’t been identified.

On Wednesday, police released a composite sketch of the main suspect based on eyewitnesses and have also placed a bounty of 1 million Thai Baht (roughly $28,000).

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A police composite sketch of the main suspect in the Bangkok bomb attack on August 17, 2015. Police have also placed a bounty of $28,000. Pic: Royal Thai Police.

A police spokesman said in an interview Wednesday that two other men seen in CCTV footage are also suspects. Earlier Wednesday, police said that the investigation had been widened to include the possibility of Thai co-conspirators in the attack.

Meanwhile, CNN reported Wednesday evening that they spoke to a moto cycle taxi driver who believed to have given the suspect a ride to Lumphini Park after the blast. The driver described him as “calm” and spoke “unfamiliar a language on his cellphone”.

WHO IS BEHIND THE ATTACK?

The short answer is: We don’t know yet! Because of the unprecedented nature of the attack, there’s simply nothing comparable in recent Thai history to draw from. I wrote a detailed dissection and debunking of the main theories, including anti-military junta activists (“… because it’d do their cause more harm than good”) and South Thai insurgent separatists (“…because they don’t operate as far as Bangkok”). But he also noted:

Nevertheless, whoever made carried out these attacks has played into the hands of the hawkish Thai military government, regardless of the intentions. It potentially delivers them the justification for harsher security measures or, even worse, a reason to somehow remain even more of an influential power stakeholder in the near distant future, thanks to political changes being undertaken since the coup.

Many Thai outlets are speculating that the bombings were revenge attacks for Thailand’s deportation of more than 100 Chinese Uighur Muslims last month. No evidence has emerged to back up this theory and Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters Wednesday that he has ruled out Uighurs as suspects.

Also, Bangkok is not a usual target by international terrorists, as Saksith Saiyasombut wrote for Siam Voices in 2013:

While Bangkok is more a logistical hub for terrorist groups, that is not to say that there has never been any terrorist activity in Thailand (I’m looking at you, Chalerm!). In early 2012, the US Embassy issued a warning to its citizens, which was immediately followed by the arrest of a suspect of the Lebanese Hezbollah. A month later, three Iranians literally blew up their cover and were suspected to have made plans to attack Israeli targets in Bangkok. A year later, Thai authorities (namely then-deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung) spoke of an Al Qaeda terror plot against the US consulate in Chiang Mai, only then to bizarrely announce a day later that the suspect had already left the country unhindered.

WHAT ABOUT THE SECOND EXPLOSION ON TUESDAY?

On Tuesday at 1pm local time, a second explosion was reported at the Sathorn ferry pier along the Chao Phraya river. No one was injured and as CCTV footage shows the explosive device fell into the water before detonating. Police say that the device was dropped from above and later stated that it was “similar” to the one used in Monday’s attack, but would not make a direct connection.