Thailand marks blast with rites as police hunt for suspects
Bangkok — Somber horns sounded Friday at the site of Bangkok’s deadly bomb blast as officials joined a multi-religious ceremony for victims of this week’s attack, the latest effort to show that the bustling capital was respectfully, if cautiously, moving on.
Four days after the explosion at the revered Erawan Shrine, at one of the capital’s busiest intersections, there were few solid leads into the perpetrators of the attack that killed 20 people and injured more than 120. Police were still searching for the prime suspect seen in a security video dropping off a backpack near a bench at the site about 15 minutes before the blast, a day after clearing two other men initially believed to be suspects.
Police on Friday were looking for a woman wearing a black shirt who appeared in the footage, seated near the suspect. They believe she could have valuable witness testimony, but she is not suspected of being involved in the plot, national police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri told The Associated Press.
After being criticized for sending confusing messages, authorities Friday were more guarded in their statements. Police Col. Winthai Suvaree said on television that the police were making progress but that details couldn’t be disclosed.
Doves were released at the site of the bombing Friday afternoon, after a morning multi-religious prayer ceremony attended by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim priests and representatives. Government officials and diplomats laid floral bouquets at the shrine, an open-air Hindu temple popular with Chinese tourists.
Office worker Pratuang Limkul was among many Bangkok residents who also came to pay respects.
“I came to send the spirits of those in this place to rest in peace,” she said, after kneeling in prayer.
Many of the victims from Monday’s blast were foreigners. Among the 20 people killed, six have been identified as Thai and four as Malaysians, four from mainland Chinese, two from Hong Kong including a British citizen, one Indonesian and one Singaporean. Two victims remain unidentified.
The attack has raised concerns about safety in a city that draws millions of tourists, but life has returned to normal quickly. Subways and shopping malls were bustling and aside from bag inspections at stores and hotel entrances, there was little visible extra security.
Police have released a sketch of the main suspect, a man seen in the security video wearing a yellow T-shirt and carrying a large backpack — depicting him as a young man with eyeglasses and bushy, black hair — and offered a 2 million baht ($56,000) reward for clues leading to his arrest.
Police have described him as a “foreign” man but the military has said that it doesn’t believe the attack was the work of an international terrorist group — a mixed message that they have not yet clarified.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it. One is that the blast was a revenge attack related to Thailand’s recent deportation to China of more than 100 Uighur Muslims, or that it could have been carried out by Islamist groups expanding their reach in Southeast Asia.
Other speculation points closer to home. Muslim separatists have been waging a low-level but deadly insurgency in southern Thailand since 2004, leaving more than 5,000 people dead, but virtually all their attacks have been confined to the southernmost provinces.
There has been little violence aimed at Thailand’s coup. Political violence boiled over during 2010 protests, when the “Red Shirt” movement that supported the ousted elected government clashed with the military, leaving about 90 people dead.
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