• Shrine targeted because of popularity with Chinese toursists
  • Criminal syndicate was angered by Thai crackdown, police say

Thai police said they believe last month’s deadly bombing in central Bangkok was carried out by a criminal syndicate that smuggled Uighur Muslims from China and was upset by the military government’s crackdown on human trafficking.

“The bomb on Aug. 17 that hurt our nation happened because Thailand cracked down or obstructed the human trafficking gang,” Police Chief Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters Tuesday in Bangkok. “This made them angry and created problems for them until they came to stage this event.”

Somyot said the attack happened for “the same reason” the Thai consulate in Turkey was trashed by rioters in July. Somyot would appear to be the first Thai official to publicly link the blast that killed 20 people at Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine to Thailand’s controversial deportation of more than 100 Uighurs to China. That event set off the Istanbul riot and was condemned by governments and rights groups around the world.

“What we did was in line with the law,” Somyot said. “But emotion is another story. We can’t stop the anger.”

Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority in western China. Many Uighurs seeking to escape what they say is repression by Chinese authorities make the journey through Southeast Asia in an attempt to resettle in Turkey. Rights groups say Uighurs returned to China risk discrimination, detention and possibly torture. China denies those claims.

Recent developments in the case have pointed to a link to Uighurs or Uighur sympathizers, though Thai officials had previously denied it.

  • The shrine targeted in the attack is popular with Chinese tourists.
  • Police said the first suspect arrested in connection with the blast was found with dozens of forged Turkish passports.
  • Police said another suspect arrested had a Chinese passport with a birthplace listed as Xinjiang, which is home to the Uighurs.
  • Police said another suspect used a Chinese passport to leave Thailand for Turkey just before the attack.

Other Thai officials including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha still doubt that Uighurs or a group sympathetic to their cause carried out the attack.

“I don’t think it is related for now,” Prayuth told reporters Tuesday.
“If it does turn out to be Uighurs, we need to consider what we should do. They can’t force the government like this.”

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