Thai police say bomb suspect part of people smuggling gang

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.

BANGKOK // A foreigner arrested in connection with the deadly Bangkok bombing was part of a people-smuggling gang who may have launched an attack in response to a crackdown on their trade, Thai police said on Sunday.

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.

Authorities believed the suspect was part of a crime group who helped illegal migrants obtain counterfeit documents, national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said. He said officials believe the bomb attack was retaliation for a recent crackdown by Thai authorities.

“They [the gang] are unsatisfied with police arresting illegal entrants,” he told local media 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 August 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.

Mr Prawut said 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.

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 General Udomdej Sitabutr said.

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

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.

No group has yet claimed responsibility.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: August 30, 2015 04:00 AM

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