Thai bomber: Sketch released, warrant issued

  • 20/08/2015
The sketch is based on security camera footage taken around the blast site (AAP)
The sketch is based on security camera footage taken around the blast site (AAP)

By Jerome Taylor

A Thai court has issued an arrest warrant for the prime suspect in the deadly Bangkok shrine bombing, describing him as an unnamed foreign man shortly after police released a sketch of him.

The warrant, issued by Bangkok's Southern Criminal Court, accuses an "unnamed foreigner of premeditated murder, attempted murder and bomb-making" over the blast that killed 20 people and wounded scores more on Monday.

The sketch of a bespectacled, apparently young man with light stubble and a full head of hair, was published on Wednesday afternoon (local time) based on security camera footage taken around the blast site that has been widely shared.

From the sketch it is not immediately clear if he is a foreigner and police have not said how they reached that conclusion.

The warrant is the first major step towards identifying a suspect revealed to the public after he was seen on CCTV calmly leaving a backpack at the Erawan shrine moments before the bomb went off.

Police say the bomber had to have acted with accomplices, with force spokesman Prawut Tavornsiri suggesting there may be "at least two others" involved in the incident.

"It's a network," national police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung said on Wednesday.

"We believe there must be people helping him, Thai people."

But he revealed no other details.

The attack occurred on Monday evening as worshippers and tourists crowded into the Erawan shrine in the Thai capital's commercial heart, shredding bodies and incinerating motorcycles.

At least 11 foreigners were killed, with visitors from Britain, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia among the victims.

Another 68 people remained in hospital, 12 of whom are in critical conditions.

The police sketch of the suspected bomber showed him with black-rimmed glasses, a full head of dark hair and a light complexion.

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said his features were gleaned partly from security footage taken of him at the shrine in the minutes before the attack.

That footage, released to the public on Tuesday, shows him wearing a bright yellow T-shirt and dark shorts, walking into the shrine with a backpack.

He casually places the backpack underneath a bench and then slowly walks away clutching a blue plastic bag while looking at what appears to be a smartphone.

Police said he escaped in a motorcycle taxi, a common form of transport in Bangkok, and that the bomb exploded several minutes later.

Prawut, the police spokesman, said other security footage of the suspect was also used to create the sketch; however, this was still not enough to determine his nationality.

"[He] might be Thai or foreign," Prawut said.

Police have offered a one million baht (NZ$43,000) reward for information that leads to the arrest of the main suspect.

Police had initially said a second explosion at a Bangkok pier on Tuesday that caused no injuries may also be linked, deepening fears for Bangkok residents of their safety.

But on Wednesday Somyot said the second attack might be a "copycat", although police were keeping all options open.

Security experts have said they are baffled over who is responsible.

With the bomber still on the run and police apparently unsure of who is responsible, ordinary Thais said they feared another attack.

"I'm still scared because you never know where [the perpetrators] will strike again," 43-year-old Sommai Gazem said.

Thai junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said security had been tightened in tourist areas "especially where there are many Chinese tourists, to regain their trust and confidence".

Two of the confirmed fatalities were from China, and another two were from Hong Kong.

The Erawan shrine is also close to Bangkok's Chinatown, and the Chinese government responded to the attack with a call for Thai authorities to ensure the safety of its citizens in Thailand.

The shrine reopened on Wednesday morning with a ceremony led by chanting monks.

Its surroundings had been largely restored and the pools of congealed blood scrubbed away.

Twisted iron railings were the only immediate sign of the blast point, which police believe was caused by a bomb made up of three kilograms of high explosives.