BANGKOK, Thailand – The perpetrators of last year’s deadly explosion at a Bangkok shrine originally chose a pier packed with Chinese tourists as their primary target and had amassed enough chemicals to make another 10 equally powerful bombs, according to the head of Thailand’s bomb squad.
A bomb planted at the Erawan Shrine on August 17 killed 20 people and turned a popular tourist site into a scene of carnage.
Another device, which was left at a crowded pier on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river but failed to explode, might have inflicted much greater casualties, said a leading security analyst.
Bomb squad chief Police Colonel Kamthorn Auicharoen’s disclosures bolster a widely held theory that the perpetrators of the shrine bombing were trying to kill Chinese tourists.
The Thai police have maintained that the motive for the Erawan bombing was Thailand’s earlier crackdown on human smuggling networks.
Acknowledging that Chinese tourists were intentionally targeted could dent one of Thailand’s biggest industries. A record 7.9 million Chinese visited the kingdom last year, or more than a quarter of the 28 million tourists that year.
Tourism is one of the few thriving sectors of an economy that has floundered since the military seized power in 2014.
When asked about the Bangkok bombers’ possible targeting of Chinese citizens, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that attacks against civilians around the world, including Chinese, were increasing.
“We believe Thai authorities can severely punish the murderers,” Hua said.
Thai police have uncovered evidence in the shrine bombing that points to a large and well-organized network, according to experts and documents. Dangerous chemicals and other materials discovered in apartments connected to two suspects could have made 10 more bombs, said bomb squad chief Kamthorn.
Yusufu Mieraili and Adem Karadag, the two suspects arrested last year by Thai police, are Uygurs from China’s Xinjiang region.
The pair appeared in a Bangkok military court on February 16 to hear 10 charges against them, including murder and illegal possession of explosives. Both men say they are innocent.
Police have issued arrest warrants for 15 other suspects, many of whom are thought to be Turkish or in Turkey.