Two men charged over deadly Thai bomb blast

Police officers escort suspects in the blast at Erawan Shrine, Bilal Mohammad, centre front, and Mieraili Yusufu, rear centre, as they arrive at a military court in Bangkok. Picture: AP
Police officers escort suspects in the blast at Erawan Shrine, Bilal Mohammad, centre front, and Mieraili Yusufu, rear centre, as they arrive at a military court in Bangkok. Picture: AP
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A military court in Thailand has charged two men over the deadly August bombing at a Bangkok shrine that left 20 people dead and more than 120 injured.

The two, identified as Bilal Mohammad and Mieraili Yusufu, were charged on ten counts connected to the 17 August blast at Erawan Shrine.

Thai officials said there was no political or religious motive behind the attack. They said the blast was revenge by a people-smuggling network against Thai authorities for breaking up their operation.

The two have been held at an army base since their arrests in August and September.

Both men have been described by officials as ethnic Uighurs (pronounced “wee-ghurs”) from western China’s Xinjiang region.

Members of the media were not allowed to enter the military court yesterday and the indictments took place before the two suspects arrived, their lawyer said.

They are being tried at a military court on an army base in Bangkok because cases of “national security” have been handled by the military since last May, when the army seized power in a coup from an elected government.

Former National Police Chief Somyot Poomphanmuang said before his retirement in September that the case against the two suspects was supported by closed-circuit television footage, witnesses, DNA matching and physical evidence, in addition to their confessions.

Security camera footage from the Erawan Shrine showed a man wearing a yellow T-shirt who sat down on a bench at the outdoor shrine, took off a black backpack and then left it behind as he stood up and walked away. Time stamps showed he left the shrine just minutes before the blast occurred, during evening rush hour as the area in central Bangkok was filled with people.

Police believe that Bilal is the yellow-shirted man who planted the bomb and Yusufu is believed to have detonated the bomb.

Police said they have confessions from the two, and Bilal’s lawyer said his client admitted planting the deadly bomb at the behest of another suspect who remains a fugitive. He says Bilal was induced to carry out the action by a promise that his emigration to Turkey would be expedited.

Early speculation about the bombing suggested it might be the work of Uighur separatists who were angry that Thailand in July forcibly repatriated more than 100 Uighurs to China, where it is feared they face persecution.

The Erawan Shrine is popular among Chinese tourists, who figured prominently among the victims of the bombing.