Bangkok blast: Is this the 'Uygur' man who masterminded Erawan shrine bombing?
Thai police on Saturday said an arrest warrant had been issued for an ethnic “Uygur” man over last month’s deadly Bangkok blast, for the first time identifying a suspect as a member of the Chinese minority group.
The announcement follows weeks of speculation over the motive and perpetrators of the unclaimed attack which killed 20 people, the majority ethnic Chinese visitors, at a religious shrine in the capital’s bustling downtown district on August 17.
Analysts had increasingly pointed towards a link with the mostly Muslim Uygur minority from northwestern China’s Xinjiang province but Thai police had up until now refused to reveal any such links.
“He is Uygur according to his passport,” national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told Agence France-Presse, after authorities released a photo of the moustached and short-haired suspect identified as Abudusataer Abudureheman or “Ishan” of ”Uygur” ethnicity and “Chinese” nationality.
Thai authorities are already holding two foreign men in custody over the attack. Ishan, who police say is 27 years old, is among another 11 wanted by police.
Prawut said the suspect, who left Thailand a day before the blast and is wanted on the charge of “jointly possessing illegal military supplies”, belonged to the criminal network that police believe is responsible, but he was ”not the mastermind” of the attack.
“I cannot confirm his whereabouts,” added the spokesman.
But in a statement released Saturday Thai immigration police said: ”According to security agencies, Ishan is the one who plotted, ordered, and funded the attack.”
The statement also refers to the arrest warrant for Ishan mentioning his Uygur ethnicity.
The hunt for the perpetrators of the bomb blast has been characterised by confusing and at times contradictory statements from Thai officials.
Police later Saturday appeared to backtrack on Ishan’s ethnicity, releasing a new photo of him without it mentioned and a request asking media “to drop the word Uygur”.
Uygur have long-accused Beijing of religious and cultural repression with scores believed to have fled in recent years, often heading to Turkey via Southeast Asia.
Thailand’s deportation of 109 Uygur refugees to China in July sparked violent protests in Turkey, where nationalist hardliners see the minority as part of a global Turkic-speaking family.
The warrant issued Saturday is the 12th over the unprecedented attack on the Thai capital.
One of the detained suspects, Yusufu Mieraili, was arrested last month with a Chinese passport registering his birthplace as Xinjiang - the region home to some 10 million of the Uygur minority. But police did not confirm his ethnicity or nationality.
The other detained suspect, Adem Karadag, was arrested at a Bangkok flat in possession of bomb-making material and scores of fake Turkish passports.
On Thursday Bangladesh police said a Bangkok blast suspect had arrived in Bangladesh on August 16 before flying out to Beijing on August 30.
But local Thai media reports have said the suspect flew on to Turkey rather than China.