Rewards offered and political activists rounded up. Arrests confirmed and then denied. Southern insurgency ruled out and then ruled in again. Does anybody know what is going on?
A 200,000 baht reward has been offered by the 7th regional police bureau to anyone who can provide useful information that will help police in the investigation of the bomb attacks in Hua Hin, said Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen, the national deputy police chief, at a press conference on Sunday.
He said it was not necessary that the information provided would actually lead to the arrest of the bombers, or their network, because local authorities might already have some information about it.
On Friday afternoon, during the immediate hours after the bombings, the Thai National Police Spokesman ruled out international terrorism.
Despite the attacks bearing striking resemblance to previous activities in the South, over recent years, the chief held a press conference and said, ‘It was ‘local sabotage as all targets were limited in certain areas of tourist attractions, and no evidence of international terrorism was found.’
The national police chief also said on Friday that ‘the spate of bomb and arson attacks in seven southern provinces in the past few days – most of them on Thursday night and Friday morning– were politically connected.’
Pol Gen Chakthip Chaichinda told a press conference that all the incidents took place after the August 7 referendum and most of them were in provinces where people voted in support of the draft constitution in the referendum.
The first arrests were announced as ‘police have detained some suspects over both Hua Hin and Trang blasts and are interrogating them,’ the spokesman said.
‘It is different from international terrorism but local sabotage aimed to destroy the country’s tourism atmosphere,’ he declared. He also said that if it was international terrorism, ‘the country would have been informed in advance of the attempt.’
On Saturday morning some Red Shirt activists, opponents of the Military Government rule, were rounded up and taken to military locations. Their bank accounts, and those of family members, were seized.
‘An unknown number of people who are trying to do harm to our country are being interrogated,’ is all we were told at the time.
We were also told on Saturday that the Thai Intelligence Services ‘had been aware of imminent attacks ahead of the series of bombings.’ However they did not have precise information such as where or when these attacks may take place, what form they would come in or who might be behind them.
Fortunately, apart from these minor details, they had been monitoring events closely.
However, on Saturday afternoon the deputy police chief insisted that ‘no bomb suspects were being held in police custody although some individuals had been invited for questioning, in accordance with the special law, and eventually released.’
Also on Saturday afternoon leaders of the anti-regime Red Shirt movement flatly denied having anything to do with the attacks that killed four people and injured thirty-five and lashed out at the junta leader for making a ‘cheap’ bid to frame them.
Finally on Saturday afternoon Malaysian news reports revealed that ‘Thai security services have asked for Malaysia’s help investigating a series of bombings.’
According to security sources, Thailand sought Malaysia’s cooperation to investigate a mobile phone used in one of the bomb blasts in Phuket, which is said to have originated from Malaysia.
‘The explosion did not destroy a portion of the mobile phone with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s serial number still visible on the phone and Thai investigators have asked for Malaysia’s cooperation to identify the origin of the phone,’ a source told Bernama News Network.
With this news the focus of attention swung back to insurgency and away from domestic political motives.
Around this time one of the unknown number of political activists, detained by the military, was identified as 67-year-old Prapas Rojanapithak, a native of Trang.
Acting under Section 44 order of the interim constitution, which gives the military power to summon, arrest or detain suspects in a range of security-related cases, troops from the Fourth Army Region detained him at his house in Trang’s Muang district and took him to an army camp in Nakhon Si Thammarat.
They confiscated books and documents from his house for examination. He was detained on suspicion that he was linked to the bombings in the south.
Mr Prapas denied any involvement and said he had no links to red shirts or the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).
On Sunday morning it was announced that one suspected arsonist had been arrested after the Chiang Mai provincial court issued a warrant for his arrest under suspicion that ‘he was involved in the arson attack at Tesco Lotus department store in Nakhon Si Thammarat,’ said Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongsathorn, before adding that Pol Lt-Gen Tesa Siriwatho, commissioner of 8th regional police bureau, personally questioned the suspect on Sunday.
He said that both Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Deputy Prime Minister for Security Affairs Prawit Wongsuwan did not push the police to quickly wrap up all the bombing and arson cases but simply told the police to strictly follow the law in handling the cases.
On Sunday afternoon the authorities said that evidence is pointing to disgruntled political parties affected by the coup for the bombings in seven provinces, as two new unexploded devices were found in Phangnga province on Saturday.
The National Council for Peace and Order said its assessment was that political parties were involved, and ruled out the southern insurgency spreading wider or foreign terrorism as causes.
Also on Sunday officials announced they been to an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Thailand, where they arrested Sakarin Karuehat, with a court-approved warrant, in connection with the fire at Tesco-Lotus in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province.
Announcing the arrest, Deputy Police Chief Gen. Pongsapat Pongcharoen called on the perpetrators of the deadly terror attacks, which injured thirty-six people to turn themselves in. Pongsapat said investigators are closer to identifying the mastermind of the coordinated attacks who they believe to be a Thai national.
He said an unspecified number of people have been taken by the military for questioning.
Pongsapat, who spoke after participating in a video conference with police from various provinces, said police have gathered various evidence including clothes, cigarette and phones.
All phones used in the attack were reportedly from the same brand and model, Samsung Hero E1200, with labels identifying them as being purchased in Malaysia. Police are asking Malaysian authorities for further assistance.
Pongsapat meanwhile said those summoned by the military should have nothing to fear. He refused to say how many have been detained so far, but said there would be no scapegoating.
‘Everyone who has been invited should not worry. Just speak the truth,’ Pongsapat said. ‘If you mean no harm to the country, you have nothing to fear.’
On Sunday afternoon Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen, the national deputy police chief, told a press conference that a 200,000 baht reward was being offered to anybody who could provide information about those behind the attacks.
He said it was not necessary that the information provided would actually lead to the arrest of the perpetrator or perpetrators because local authorities ‘might already have some information about it.’
He confirmed that the attacks were ‘inter-connected and were perpetrated by an organized movement under the command of an individual,’ whom he declined to identify.
He then said, ‘it was too early to assume the motive or motives of the incidents or to rule out the possibility that the bombing attacks might be perpetrated by southern militants.’
Finally, on Sunday, NCPO spokesman Piyapong Klinpan, said a campaign was under way by some groups to mislead the public into believing the violence was related to the insurgent movement in the deep South, particularly the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). ‘The bombs went off and now they are talking. I think they are trying to create confusion,’ he said.
This morning The Bangkok Post reported that ‘terrorism analysts had agreed that forensic evidence suggests the explosive devices, used in multiple bomb and arson attacks last week, were of the same type used in the far South, despite the military regime’s attempts to brush aside the connection.’
Also, this morning, The Straits Times are reporting that the Bernama Malaysian News have revealed Malaysian police received fragments of one of the phones used in the attacks as early as Saturday and were attempting to track the registered owner.
The report quoted Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar as saying that they ‘received a fragment that has the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) serial number on it.
Confusion.. What confusion?
Stories by Albert Jack