A suspect has been arrested who matches the description of the bomber at a Bangkok shrine, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday.
The junta boss said the suspect, who is “not Thai,” was apprehended in Sa Kaeo province, on the border with Cambodia.
The August 17 bombing of a Bangkok shrine killed 20 people and wounded more than 100.
The suspect – the second to be taken into custody – was captured at noon Tuesday trying to cross into Cambodia and is now undergoing military interrogation in the capital, national police Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters in Bangkok.
The police spokesman described the man as an important member of the group responsible for the bombing.
Photographs of the suspect appeared similar to the man in a yellow T-shirt whose image was captured on closed circuit television leaving a bag inside the shrine moments before the explosion.
During a news conference, Prawut would not confirm whether a widely broadcast image of a Chinese passport photo page was that of the suspect arrested at the border.
The passport, whose authenticity could not be immediately determined, was for a 25-year-old man named Yusufu Mieraili, born in Xinjiang, China.
The location in eastern Thailand where the suspect was apprehended appeared to be near a check point that officials had earlier identified as a place where immigration officers had allowed “illegal foreign laborers” entry into Thailand.
Earlier Tuesday, General Somyot Pumpanmuang, the Thai national police chief, said six immigration officers had neglected their duties at the Aranyaprathet checkpoint, just across the border from Poipet, and had been punished and removed from their posts.
Authorities on Tuesday also released a photograph of a Turkish man and sketches of two other men for whom arrest warrants had been issued for “illegal possession of explosive.”
A few hours before the announcement of the arrest of the alleged bomber, Thailand’s military junta Tuesday called on landlords to help them find those involved with the group responsible for the fatal bombing.
The request was made in a noon broadcast aired on all television channels to update the public on the investigation into the attack, which authorities have gone to lengths not to label as an act of terrorism.
Thai authorities have focused on reassuring tourists and foreign visitors that the country remains safe, despite the attack.
Tuesday’s announcement, read in Thai, English and Mandarin Chinese, began with an assurance that “airline bookings from other countries into Thailand remain at the normal level.”
The junta broadcast also asked owners of residences, guesthouse and apartments “to inform the nearest military or police officers or call 1515” to inform the military or police about any suspicious individuals on their premises.
Since Saturday, two apartment complexes have been raided, resulting in the arrest of a 28-year-old foreign man and the discovery of what authorities say are various explosives and components to make bombs.
The man was also found with a stack of apparently counterfeit Turkish passports.
On Tuesday’s noon broadcast, Army 2nd Lt. Pareya Netrawichien read a statement saying that suspect, whose name and nationality have not been released, yielded information.
“The result has proven to be greatly beneficial to the interrogation, leading to (warrants for the) apprehension of additional suspects,” said Pareya, who is also a regular newscaster on the Royal Thai Army’s Channel 5 Television.
A female Thai suspect whose photograph was released Monday, is said to have rented a room to another suspect, and is in another country and is cooperative, according to the military.
Media reports quote the chief of her local village as saying Wanna Suansan has been in Turkey for months with her Turkish husband and declared she had no knowledge of the bombing.
Uighur connection questioned
There has been speculation that the attack could be a response to Thailand’s deportation in July of more than 100 ethnic Uighurs to China.
Western governments and Uighur rights groups criticized the move, saying those deported could face ill treatment back in China.
Following their deportation, violent protests in Istanbul targeted the Thai and Chinese missions.
Thai government officials and police have been instructed not to comment about the bombing being an act of international terrorism, mention Turkey or speculate that Chinese tourists may have been specifically targeted.
Eighteen police in Bangkok have been punished by being removed from their posts for alleged wrongdoing related to the bombing, authorities said on Tuesday.
The police officers, following the bombing, failed to conduct ordered searches of premises and “suspicious foreigners” in their districts, falsely claiming they carried out the assignment and discovered nothing unusual, officials told reporters.
There are local media reports that one suspect captured Saturday may have entered Thailand at that location by bribing inspectors and was carrying a fake Turkish passport.