Thai military detains 15 over tourist town attacks

By Afp1

Published: 11:24 GMT, 18 August 2016 | Updated: 11:24 GMT, 18 August 2016

Thailand’s junta on Thursday detained at least 15 suspects at military barracks on suspicion of launching a string of deadly bomb and arson attacks against tourist resort towns last week. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing spree, which hit tourist towns in the country’s south last Thursday and Friday, killing four and wounding dozens, including European visitors. The attacks were highly unusual in a country where foreigners and tourist towns are rarely caught up in the country’s frequent bouts of political violence.

Thai Military Detains 15 Over Tourist Town Attacks

Thai forensic specialists collect evidence from the crime scene after a bomb exploded in the tourist town of Hua Hin on August 12, 2016 Munir Uz Zaman (APF/AFP/File)

Investigators have been under huge pressure to make quick arrests. Tourism accounts for as much as 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP and is one of the kingdom’s few economic bright spots under junta rule. On Thursday, investigators confirmed they had detained multiple suspects.

“Authorities have detained 17 suspects at the special 11th Army Circle barracks in Bangkok but we released two of them,” Colonel Burin Tongprapai, the junta’s top legal advisor, told reporters on Thursday.

He added that authorities were now looking to re-detain those two released suspects and that the entire group were likely to be charged on Friday. Colonel Burin’s comments highlight the primary role the military have played in the investigation and is the first official admission that scores of suspects have been held since the bombings on army barracks. Local human rights groups had previously said more than a dozen suspects were being held without access to lawyers and called for greater transparency in the investigation.

Thailand is currently ruled by the military, which seized power in 2014 and awarded themselves widespread powers to hold suspects.

– Murky motives –

Authorities have remained tight-lipped on the motive of the perpetrators of last week’s attack or the identities of anyone detained. But police and the military quickly ruled out international terrorism, saying the perpetrators were “local saboteurs”. The assaults struck on the Queen’s birthday — a national holiday — just days after a controversial military-crafted constitution was passed in a referendum vote where independent campaigning was banned.

A number of analysts say the most likely culprits are therefore ethnic Muslim militants who have fought a lengthy but local insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces. The attacks bore many hallmarks of the southern insurgents, who never claim their operations, including coordinated multiple strikes and the type of devices used. But the junta leadership has been adamant that the deep south conflict has not spread north, fearful that such an admission might harm tourism.

Instead they have hinted at involvement of factions within the so-called “Red Shirt” movement loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The military toppled Thaksin in 2006 sparking years of debilitating protests culminating in a second coup against an elected administration run by his sister Yingluck in 2014. The Red Shirts have denied any suggestion of involvement and accused the junta of using the bomb blasts to roll out a fresh crackdown against them.

No details were given on Thursday about the identity of the 17 suspects, their faith, their alleged motives or what they will be charged with. The army barracks where the suspects are being detained is controversial. A special military prison was set up there after the junta seized power to hold high value suspects.

Two former aides of Thailand’s Crown Prince who were arrested for royal defamation died in custody at the barracks and were quickly cremated in yet to be fully explained circumstances. A third suspect in that investigation remains incarcerated there. Two Chinese nationals accused of involvement in last summer’s bomb attack against a Bangkok religious shrine — an attack that left 20 dead — are also being held there.

The motives for that attack remain murky although the pair’s trial begins next week.

Anthony Davis, a security analyst at Janes IHS, said regardless of whoever was behind last week’s bombings, they were a “watershed moment” because they singled out the tourism trade.

“Whoever is responsible for this may well come back,” he told AFP.

“And if that’s the case, then the tourism industry is at very serious risk.”

Thai Military Detains 15 Over Tourist Town Attacks

Blasts in Thailand

Thai Military Detains 15 Over Tourist Town Attacks

Police tape cordons off burned buildings at the site of a bomb blast and arson attack on Bang Niang market, Takua Pa, near Khao Lak, Thailand on August 12, 2016 Jerome Taylor (AFP/File)

Thai Military Detains 15 Over Tourist Town Attacks

Police inspect a near-empty parking lot where the popular night market should have been held, following blasts in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin on August 12, 2016 Lillian Suwanrumpha (AFP/File)


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