Thai investigators believe a man seen in security video wearing a yellow T-shirt and carrying a backpack set off the bomb at a central Bangkok shrine that killed 20 people and injured more than 100, police said Tuesday.
“The yellow shirt guy is not just the suspect. He is the bomber,” police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri told The Associated Press.
Prawut earlier released several photos of the man, with and without the backpack, on social media. The images were apparently taken from closed-circuit video at the Erawan Shrine on Monday evening before the bomb exploded. He confirmed that the man is suspected in the bombing when contacted by The Associated Press.
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A video posted separately on Thai media appeared to show the same man, with youthful shaggy dark hair, sitting on a bench at the crowded shrine, then taking off the backpack and leaving it behind as he walked away.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called Monday’s explosion at a busy intersection “the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand,” and promised to track down those responsible.
“There have been minor bombs or just noise, but this time they aimed for innocent lives,” Prayuth said Tuesday.
“They want to destroy our economy, our tourism.”
Without elaborating about possible perpetrators, the prime minister said, “Today we have seen the closed-circuit footage, we saw some suspects, but it wasn’t clear. We have to find them first.”
The improvised explosive device, which police say was made from a pipe and weighed 3 kilograms (more than 6 pounds), scattered body parts, spattered blood, blasted windows and burned motorbikes to the metal. The explosion went off around 7 p.m. in an upscale area filled with tourists, office workers and shoppers.
No one has claimed responsibility.
Bangkok was rattled again Tuesday when another explosive device blew up at a ferry pier often used by tourists, but no one was hurt.
“The bomb at Sathorn Pier was also a pipe bomb and it might be related to the (Monday) bombing,” said Prawut, the police spokesman. Another police official, Senior Sgt. Maj. Worapong Boonthawee, said it was thrown from the Taksin Bridge and blew up at Sathorn Pier after falling into the Chao Phraya River below. “There is no injury,” he said. Security camera video showed a sudden blast of water over a walkway at the pier as bystanders run for safety.
Prayuth gave his first televised address since the bombing Tuesday, saying the government will expedite “all investigative efforts to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Monday’s bomb exploded at Erawan Shrine, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Brahma, but is extremely popular among Thailand’s Buddhists as well as Chinese tourists. Although Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, it has enormous Hindu influence on its religious practices and language.
Thai authorities identified five victims as Thai and four as Chinese – two of them from Hong Kong – along with two Malaysians and one Singaporean, and said the nationalities of the other eight victims remained unknown.
Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said authorities had no idea an attack had been planned.
“We didn’t know about this ahead of time. We had no intelligence on this attack,” he said.
Prayuth vowed to “hurry and find the bombers,” though he noted there may be just one perpetrator. Speaking to reporters, he continued what has been a notoriously prickly relationship with the media since the former general took control of the government in a May 2014 coup.
Asked if there were leads on the suspects’ identities, Prayuth bristled: “We are still investigating. The bomb has just exploded why are you asking now? Do you understand the word investigation? It’s not like they claim responsibility.”
Thailand has seen many violent attacks in recent years, particularly in a more-than-decade-long insurgency by Muslim separatists that has left more than 5,000 dead in the country’s deep south. Those attacks have never extended to the capital, however.
Bangkok has seen politically charged violence over the past decade; the deadliest, in 2010, killed more than 90 over two months and was centered on the same intersection where Monday’s bomb went off. But none of those attacks included a bomb blast that seemed intended to produce mass casualties.
Matthew Wheeler, Southeast Asia security analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the bombing was a “new type of attack for Bangkok” that doesn’t bear the trademarks of typical violence over the past decade from political instability or Muslim separatists.
“It is certainly not like politically motivated attacks we’ve seen in the past which have generally been designed to grab attention but not cause casualties,” Wheeler said, adding that he expected it would have “major ramifications for security in Thailand.”
The suspect seen in the video wearing a yellow shirt raised initial questions about whether authorities believed the violence was politically motivated, since one group of previous protesters was known to wear yellow shirts. But officials have not linked the attack to Thai politics.
Early Tuesday morning, investigators surveyed the damage as police and soldiers guarded the area, still littered with shattered glass and other debris. The normally busy intersection that was closed off to traffic and eerily empty aside from onlookers standing behind police tape to take pictures. Barricades were set up outside five-star hotels in the neighborhood and security personnel stopped cars to inspect trunks before letting them pass. The intersection was reopened by midday.
At least 20 people were confirmed dead and 126 injured, according to the Erawan Emergency Center, which revised an earlier injured toll.
Bangkok has been relatively peaceful since a military coup ousted a civilian government in May last year after several months of sometimes violent political protests against the previous government.
At the same time, the military government has tightly controlled dissent, arresting hundreds of its opponents and banning protests. Tensions have risen in recent months, with the junta making clear that it may not hold elections until 2017 and wants a constitution that will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.
Stirring the pot has been exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. It was his sister Yingluck Shinawatra who was ousted as prime minister last year.
Last week, Thaksin posted a message on YouTube urging his followers to reject the draft constitution because he said it was undemocratic. The draft charter is supposed to be voted on next month by a special National Reform Council. If it passes, it is supposed to go to a public referendum around January.
The US Embassy in Bangkok issued an emergency message for US citizens, advising them to avoid the shrine’s area. In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby expressed deep sympathy to those affected by the Bangkok explosion.
Tourists reacted with concern.
“We didn’t think anything like this could happen in Bangkok,” said Holger Siegle, a German who said he and his newlywed wife had chosen Thailand because it seemed safe. “Our honeymoon and our vacation will go on, but with a very unsafe feeling.”