BANGKOK — Police hunting the perpetrators of Thailand’s deadliest bombing arrested on Saturday a foreigner they said matched the description of a man who left a bag at the crowded site of a blast in Bangkok nearly two weeks ago.
Police raided a four-floor budget apartment in a suburb of the capital and found fake passports and bomb-making materials possibly used in the Aug. 17 attack at a Hindu shrine that killed 20 people and shook Bangkok’s bustling commercial heart.
The suspect was a 28-year-old foreigner who had been in Thailand since January last year and was being held at a military facility on initial charges of possessing illegal explosives, police said.
“It’s unlikely to be terrorism. It’s not an international terrorist act,” Police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told a news conference.
Somyot did not explain how police had come to that conclusion, but said the motive was “taking personal revenge for his comrades”. He did not elaborate.
The bomb tore through the crowded Erawan Shrine, one of the country’s top tourist attractions and close to several of Bangkok’s most luxurious hotels and its biggest shopping malls.
Among the dead were 14 foreigners, seven from mainland China and Hong Kong, in an attack the military government said was a strike at Thailand’s ailing economy.
With few clues so far, speculation has been rife about who masterminded the devastating attack, the scale of which Bangkok has never seen, despite going through a decade of intermittent political turmoil in the capital.
National police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said more people were being sought and evidence pointed to the arrested man’s involvement in a second bomb a day later in the city’s Sathorn area, which caused no damage.
“We found he’s connected to both Bangkok blasts,” Prawut said. “We believe the perpetrators are from the same group.”
The prime suspect is a young man with shaggy dark hair dressed in a yellow shirt seen on grainy closed-circuit television footage dropping off a backpack and casually leaving the scene before the bomb went off.
A televised announcement showed still images of bags full of what appeared to be bomb-making materials and a photograph of a barefooted man, hands behind his back, with a beard and hair shaven short.
Police showed another image of a Turkish passport with a photograph that appeared to be the same man but police indicated the passport was fake.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Speculation in media and among experts has been rife about who has motive and capability to carry it out, pointing to southern ethnic Malay separatists, opponents of the ruling military, international extremists or sympathizers of Uighur Muslims, of which Thailand forcibly repatriated more than 100 to China last month.
Many of the Turkic-speaking minority Uighurs who hail from China’s far west and have sought passage via Southeast Asia to Turkey. Thai police said on Thursday they were looking into recent arrivals from Turkey as part of their bomb probe.
Police had made little progress and have been criticized for providing contradictory information. Reuters reporters on Friday found the authorities had not checked some CCTV footage taken minutes after the blast, which featured a man dressed like the chief suspect.