Thai Junta leader Prayut-Chan-ocha announced on Tuesday that authorities are tracking a suspect after he was sighted in CCTV video of the scene of the massive blast at a shrine in Bangkok that left more than 22 dead and scores of others wounded.
"Today there is a suspect who appeared on CCTV but it's not clear... we are looking for this guy," Prime Minister Prayut-Chan-ocha said.
Local Thai television channel the Nation claimed earlier on Tuesday that the suspect seen in the CCTV footage had “an Arab look.” The man reportedly planted a bomb under a bench and then left from the scene looking his mobile phone.
"The man was seen on security camera sitting on a bench in the compound of the shrine after leaving his bag behind the bench," the channel reported.
"After a while he was seen standing and dialing from his phone and walking fast from the area."
According to General Prayut, it is believed that the suspect is a member of an “anti-government group based in Thailand’s north-east,” likely a reference to the Red Shirt movement.
The Red Shirt movement, which represents the poorer districts in the country's northeastern, support ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister.
The latest coup in Thailand overturned elected President Yanigluck Shinawatra and his cabinet in 2014.
The Red Shirt movement has been blamed for instigating political unrest in Thailand and carrying out grenade attacks throughout the country. However, it had never previously attempted an attack as big as Monday’s one.
Following Prayut’s statement, Major General Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak said that government officials haven’t confirmed the identification of any suspects and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, adding that there are no other leads apart from the footage which is circulating on TV channels and social media.
Professor Panitan Wattanayagorn, a national security specialist and advisor to defence minister and deputy premier General Prawit Wongsuwan, said, “We are not ruling out any suspect groups.’’
“The list of suspects is small. They are looking for just a few people. And police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung believes they are still in Bangkok,’’ he told The Straits Times.
According to rumors from some media outlets, General Prayut has ordered an investigation against ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra concerning the deadly blast.
The country has also been struggling with a decade-long insurgency in its Muslim majority southern provinces. The conflict between rebel groups and government troops in the region has claimed 6,400 lives so far.
Sukhondhapatipak played down speculation about the involvement of the southern insurgency in the attack, saying that the style of the attack - in which three kilograms of explosives were used to prepare two pipe bombs - did not match the tactics of Muslim insurgents from the country’s south.
He also said that the Muslim insurgency had never planned such a major attack outside the south.
Army Chief General Udomdej also backed Major General Sukhondhapatipak's statements, saying on television that the bomb blast at Erawan “does not match with incidents in southern Thailand.”
“The type of bomb used is also not in keeping with the south,’’ he added.
Thailand sets up 'war room'
The Thai government has formed a “war room” to effectively hunt down the suspects of the Erawan shrine bombing, according to the country’s Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who also claimed that the attack was aimed at hitting the country’s tourism industry to shake the economy.
Wongsuwan said that the attackers "intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district."
"It was a TNT bomb... the people who did it targeted foreigners and to damage tourism and the economy," he added.
Prayuth also told media outlets that the Erawan attack “is the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand,” adding that “there have been minor bombs or just noise, but this time they aimed for innocent lives. They want to destroy our economy, our tourism.”
The death toll of the incident on Monday was repored as 22, with more than 123 others wounded. according a Thai government spokesman. He said that three Chinese, two Hong Kong residents, two tourists from Malaysia and one foreigner from the Phillipines were killed in the blast. Twenty Chinese were also wounded in the blast.
On Tuesday China expressed strong condemnation of the attack and urged the Thai government to pursue a full investigation to reveal who was behind the deadly blast, according to a statement posted on Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying’s website.