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Bangkok shrine bombing

Religion among theories for motive behind Bangkok attack

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 August, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 August, 2015, 2:49am

While the Thai government is not ruling out any possibility of who to blame for Monday's blast that killed at least 20 people at a popular Bangkok shrine, and another on Tuesday in which no one was hurt, theories are emerging that the attacks could be linked to religious conflicts.

A bomb was detonated at the Erawan Shrine in the popular Ratchaprasong shopping precinct in Chidlom district on Monday evening during rush hour, wounding 125 others. At least eight foreigners were among the dead, including six Chinese.

Thai police on Tuedsay narrowed their search to a lone suspect seen on surveillance footage wearing a yellow shirt and carrying a backpack.

Local authorities said earlier that the attack in the capital's bustling commercial hub during rush hour was aiming at damaging the economy.

Police had said that no group had been ruled out of suspicion but added that the attack did not match the tactics of Muslim insurgents in the south of the country. No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.

"Police are not ruling out anything, including [Thai] politics and the conflict with ethnic Uygurs who, before this, Thailand sent back to China," national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang said.

Thailand forcibly repatriated 109 Uygurs to China last month. Chinese state media said some of them had planned to go to Syria and Iraq to carry out jihad. In recent years, Chinese Uygurs have used Thailand as a transit hub after fleeing China's Xinjiang region to make their way to Turkey, with whom they share religious and linguistic bonds.

Thailand is also popular with tourists from many countries.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, refused to speculate about the culprits other than to say the attack was aimed at triggering religious conflict in mainly Buddhist Thailand.

"What is tragic is that the device was placed near a shrine, so it calls for the Thai government to [look into] conflicts in religious communities. [Whoever did it] understood the impact it will have for religious conflicts on Thailand," Gunaratna said.

He said the Thai government was working with international intelligence agencies to identify the perpetrator.

"It was certainly an attack that fully intended to create chaos because the bomb was designed and placed to kill and injure a large number of foreigners and Thai nationals," he said.

Professor Yang Shu, an expert on Central Asia at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, agreed that the attack was religiously motivated.

"In my view, it's highly likely that it was in line with the recent rise of international Islamic extremist acts," Yang said.

"According to our figures, about 6,000 Thais died in conflicts between 2004 and 2014 initiated by Islamic separatists in southern Thailand. Of those, 40 per cent were Buddhists. It's very natural for them to attack monks and temples."

Read more: Thai police on trail of backpack bomber

He said it was possible that Uygurs launched the attack, but the chances were not high, adding that there was not enough evidence to suggest Chinese were being targeted.

Raffaello Pantucci, from Britain's Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, also thought it was unlikely that Uygurs were responsible for the bombing.

Even though Bangkok had returned 109 Uygurs to China, it had also turned about 200 others over to Turkey.

"It shows that the Thai government has definitely given it a bit more thought [than just following the Chinese government's request to repatriate all Uygurs]," Pantucci said.

"It would be surprising [if it was initiated by Uygurs]. It would be such a change for them.

"Thailand is also a busy transport route for foreigners and [different] terrorists," he said, noting that [the Shia Islamist militant group] Hezbollah had tried to build a large bomb last year in Thailand but was disrupted.

Pan Zhiping , a professor at Xinjiang University's Central Asia Research Centre, did not rule out Uygur involvement in the attack, because many of them transited through Thailand after fleeing China, but said much more investigation was needed.