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Homeland Security

Thailand Vows to Find Bangkok Bombing Culprits

August 18, 2015

by Steve Herman

Thai police have released video of the suspected bomber in Monday’s deadly blasts that killed at least 22 people, most of them foreigners.

The footage from a security camera outside the shrine shows a dark-haired man in a bright yellow shirt who casually sits and takes off his backpack on a bench, leaving it behind as he walks away. Police said the blast occurred shortly after he left.

Meanwhile, someone dropped an explosive device off the King Taksin Bridge in Bangkok Tuesday afternoon, panicking people on the nearby river ferry pier. Closed circuit television video of the explosion showed the device detonated in the water, causing no injuries.

The blast, coming less than 24 hours after the one at the Erawan Shrine, 5 kilometers away in central Bangkok, further unsettled the already jittery capital.

No claim of responsibility has been made for either explosion. Speculation is rife on Thai social media, with both domestic organizations and foreign terrorist groups cited as potential culprits.

Suspects ‘still in the area’

The Thai government has received support from international intelligence agencies to assess whether certain groups were operating in Thailand, but this has been inconclusive, said Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to the Defense Ministry.

We are looking for an individual person or persons, at least a few [of whom] the police chief believes are still in the area,” he told VOA.

There was no overt increase in security across the city on Tuesday morning, but at midday, a government broadcast transmitted on all TV channels said that more than 10,000 army troops and police officers are being mobilized to man roadblocks and checkpoints.

Officials with the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the formal name for the military junta in charge since a coup last May, broadcast statements in Thai, English and Chinese, reassuring people that Thailand remains safe.

“The ongoing attempts at destruction might be politically motivated, targeting the economy, tourism for whatever reason. The government will work to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice as soon as possible,” said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Economic impact

The economic impact is already being felt. The Thai baht has slumped to a six-year low against the U.S. dollar. Investors widely sold Thai stocks on Tuesday with the SET index closing down 2.56 percent. Tour operators are confirming immediate cancellations by those too frightened to travel to the kingdom.

The shrine’s location is close to areas that have been occupied over the years by different political factions opposing the ruling government.

In 2010, government opponents occupied the area for weeks until the army violently pushed them out, leading to several deaths and arson attacks on nearby shopping centers. The area was again occupied by another group of anti-government demonstrators in 2014, which led to the removal of the government led by Yingluck Shinawatra and then the military coup.

Over the past year, Thailand’s military government has banned protests and suspended democracy, while insisting the country is not yet ready for another election.

Bangkok mourns

Some of the unfazed gathered in front of the Erawan Shrine were sanitation crews scouring the bloodied Hindu religious site with powerful water hoses on Tuesday afternoon.

Tourists, and even some police officers could be seen snapping “selfies” with cell phones, posing with the damaged shrine in the background.

“I have a heart for the people of Thailand. And I pray for the people who died. Yeah, it’s terrible; it’s not good,” said Belgian traveler Pascal Ockerman, who told VOA he has been in Thailand for two months and had no intention of cutting short his visit.

Australian tourist Grace Evans from Queensland said the bombing occurred less than 2 kilometers from her hotel and left her deeply upset.

“We could have been at that shrine as far as I’m concerned. We went past it – we could have been (there), because we do those kind of things – we go to temples; we do that kind of thing,” she said. Hopefully….. I just feel in my heart there is more to come, I really do and that’s why I really, really want to go home,” she said.

Fear for tourism industry

Workers who are highly dependent on tourists say they fear another fatal blast could wipe them out economically.

“I don’t want it to happen again. If it does, I don’t know what to do,“ said motorcycle taxi driver Nirut Udomlap, sitting on his Blue 110 cc Honda Wave in front of the Central World shopping mall.

He said at least one of his colleagues had been killed by Monday’s blast, about 150 meters away from his parking spot.

“Most of the visitors here come with tour groups, or sometimes by themselves,” Nirut explained. “Most are Chinese, then Thais and Filipinos.”

All three nationalities were among those killed by the shrine blast.

Hong Kong has issued a “red alert” for its residents to avoid non-essential travel to Thailand. Many here fear other governments could soon issue similar warnings.

Ron Corben contributed to this report.

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