Thailand’s national police chief said yesterday that authorities are now certain that last month’s deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine was related to the trafficking of Uighur Muslims from China to Turkey.
Somyot Poompanmoung’s comments marked the first time authorities have publicly linked the 17 August bombing to the smuggling of Uighurs, after weeks of hinting at it and saying only that authorities believe the attack was carried out by human traffickers angered by a crackdown on their network.
In the past week, several Turkish and Chinese links to the bombing appeared to strengthen the theory that the attack was to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of more than 100 ethnic Uighurs to China in July. The deportations stirred anger in Turkey, where the Thai Consulate in Istanbul was attacked by a group protesting at the expulsions.
Uighurs, an ethnic minority in western China, are related to Turks, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community.
“It’s a network that smuggles Uighurs from one country to the other,” Somyot said. “The bombing at Rajaprasong resulted from the fact that Thai authorities destroyed or disrupted their human trafficking network and they couldn’t continue their business.”
Rajaprasong is the area of Bangkok where the bombing at the busy Erawan Shrine occurred. The blast killed 20 people and injured more than 120.
Thai authorities have avoided calling the bombing an act of terrorism, which they fear would harm Thailand’s image as a tourist destination. For the same reason, authorities said they wanted to avoid singling out motives linked to specific countries or religious groups.
Somyot said that the bombing and the attack of the consulate in Istanbul “came from the same cause,” apparently referring to the trafficking network. “We destroyed their business, which caused anger,” he said.
On Monday, police said that a key suspect in the bombing travelled on a Chinese passport and had fled to Turkey.
The suspect, identified as Abudureheman Abudusataer, left Thailand on 16 August for Bangladesh, said national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri. He said information gathered by Thai police and Bangladeshi officials showed that the man left Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on 30 August and travelled to Istanbul as his final destination, via New Delhi and Abu Dhabi.
Thai police had previously said the man may have directed the bombing.
“He departed Dhaka on 30 August for Delhi by Jet Airways,” Prawut said. “From Delhi, he continued his travel to Abu Dhabi, and from Abu Dhabi he travelled on August 31 to Istanbul. This is his final destination. It’s clear.”
A senior Turkish government official, however, denied that the man had escaped to the country.