BANGKOK – Col. Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the ruling military junta, said in a televised statement that the government had all but ruled out a connection to international terrorism after consulting with foreign agencies and motive for the attack, which struck Bangkok’s main shopping area, remained unknown on Thursday
The Thai police have identified the man being sought in the bombing, which killed 20 people, as a foreigner of Caucasian, Arab or mixed race. His image was captured by a security camera as he placed a backpack in the spot on Monday evening where, minutes later, an explosion ripped through the crowded Erawan Shrine, a Hindu site that is particularly popular with Chinese and other Asian tourists.
The national police chief, Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung, said on Thursday that the attack had probably been planned at least a month in advance and involved a team of at least 10 people, including Thais. He said it would have required carrying out a number of tasks, including surveying the target area, finding materials for building the bomb and helping the perpetrators escape.
Colonel Winthai said Chinese tourists were not believed to have been the direct target of the blast.
Two men shown in security camera footage from the shrine, whom the police had initially identified as possible accomplices, turned themselves in to the police on Thursday. The men, a Thai and his Chinese friend, are not suspects and had nothing to do with the bombing, General Prawut said.
Also on Thursday, General Prawut said the police had spoken with the driver of a tuk-tuk, a type of motorized rickshaw, who reported that he had picked up a man matching the police description of the suspect and dropped him off near the shrine before the bomb went off. He was carrying a heavy backpack, and placed it on the floor of the tuk-tuk rather than on the passenger seat next to him, General Prawut told Thai PBS, a Thai TV station.
He said the police had also spoken with a motorcycle taxi driver who said he had picked up a man matching the suspect’s description after the bombing and dropped him off at Lumpini Park, a heavily populated area about two-thirds of a mile from the shrine. But the police have been unable to identify the suspect on closed-circuit television cameras.
“We haven’t found the footage of him afterwards from anywhere,” General Prawut said. “It was 7 p.m., and the CCTV footage wasn’t clear.”
Along with six Thais, the blast killed four mainland Chinese, two residents of Hong Kong, four Malaysians, an Indonesian and a Singaporean. Two additional victims remain unidentified. Colonel Winthai’s statement, which was broadcast on Thai television, was followed by versions in English and Chinese; Chinese translations of official televised statements are unusual in Thailand.
Since the blast, the Thai authorities have tightened security by setting up checkpoints and round-the-clock guards at some tourist attractions in Bangkok.
The Erawan Shrine, which was swiftly restored after the bombing, was less busy than normal Thursday morning, regular visitors said, but several groups of Chinese tourists were there. Lotuses, orchids and other flowers had been left on a fence at the shrine compound in memory of those killed, along with a sign reading “Stronger Together.”
“I came here to pray for the officials to arrest the perpetrators,” said Saowanee Yudee, 48, a regular visitor to the shrine who has worked nearby for 17 years. “I pray for peace in the country.”
Ms. Saowanee said Bangkok residents had become resilient in the face of violence, given the political turmoil of recent years that has sometimes erupted in bloodshed. The busy intersection where the Erawan Shrine sits has been the scene of such violence in the past.
But like many here, Ms. Saowanee said she found it difficult to believe that Thais had carried out the bombing at the shrine.
“We’ve seen Thai people fight in the street or burn down buildings during protests,” she said. “But aiming for massive deaths at one time like this, it doesn’t seem Thai at all.”