THAILAND – ‘Lack of equipment’ hampers search for Bangkok bomber (France 24)

Thai police said Sunday a lack of “modern equipment” was hampering their efforts to find those responsible for a bomb attack in Bangkok that killed 20 people, with authorities appearing no closer to identifying suspects nearly a week after the blast.

Anxiety is mounting six days after Monday’s attack at the Erawan shrine in the Thai capital’s commercial heart, with the bomber still on the run and police offering little new information on the investigation’s progress.

The strongest evidence appears to be grainy CCTV footage of a young man who left a backpack at the Erawan Shrine before the explosion. He disappeared into the night, on a motorcycle taxi.

Authorities have issued confusing and at times contradictory statements about the suspect’s appearance, the number of accomplices he might have had and the likelihood of foreign involvement.

A sketch of the man has been widely circulated and a bounty of more than $300,000 has been offered for his arrest.

He is described on his arrest warrant as “foreign” but police have since said he could in fact be Thai or of mixed race.

Unverified footage, time-stamped just a few minutes after Monday’s blast, shows a second man in a blue T-shirt kicking a package into water near a bridge in the same spot where a device exploded on Tuesday without injuries.

But police have not publicly linked the two blasts despite pressure to reveal more.

“The slowness of the investigation is not because the police lack capacity,” national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told reporters.

“But it’s because we don’t have the modern equipment that supports the work.”

He did not reveal the equipment the police need but it is likely to be facial recognition technology or programmes to enhance security camera footage.

Foreign help

Pumpanmuang said the police were waiting for cooperation from abroad “to come and help with this equipment”.

Earlier in the week junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha bristled at suggestions his government should seek overseas help in a complicated inquiry, with several nations offering their expertise.

It is not clear if any offers have since been officially accepted.

Despite their technical limitations, police say the investigation is progressing but they accept that the main suspect could have left the country.

“We cannot give details of that progress… let the police work,” police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said.

“We are working around the clock…. but this kind of a case is not easy.”

The blast at one of the capital’s most famous shrines, packed with Asian visitors, will inevitably dent the country’s tourist industry, one of the economy’s few bright spots.

The Erawan Shrine, dedicated to a Hindu deity, is hugely popular with tourists from China and seven of the 14 foreigners among the dead were from mainland China and Hong Kong.

Economic woes could undermine the military government as it steers the country towards an election next year under a new constitution critics say will not end a decade of turbulent politics.

Police initially speculated Muslim ethnic Uighurs from western China might have been responsible but officials later cast doubt on an international link and said China was not targeted.

Muslims waging a low-level insurgency in southern Thailand have never been known to carry out such an attack and neither have activists from a decade-long struggle for power between the establishment and populist former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

As the hunt for the bomber went on, authorities said two people had been arrested for spreading “confusing information” on social media.