Thai police say a foreign man detained over last month’s deadly Bangkok attack was the main suspect seen on CCTV wearing a yellow shirt and leaving a backpack at the shrine moments before the blast.
Authorities earlier said it was unlikely that either of the two men held over the August 17 blast, which left 20 dead, were the bomber in what has been an often confusing and contradictory police investigation.
But on Saturday, national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said further inquiries had revealed the first suspect arrested, a man police identified as Adem Karadag and whose nationality remains unconfirmed, was the bomber.
“It is confirmed that Adem is the man in the yellow shirt based on CCTV footage, eyewitness accounts and his own confession,” Prawut said.
“After he placed the bomb at the shrine, he called a motorbike taxi and changed his shirt at a restroom in (nearby) Lumpini Park” before travelling to the flat where he was arrested at the end of August.
Karadag’s lawyer said on Saturday he was denied access earlier this week to his client by officials at the military barracks in Bangkok where he is being detained because the suspect was “sick”.
Chuchart Kanphai added he did not believe his client, who he says is called Bilal Mohammed and was not in the country at the time of the attack, had confessed.
The suspect now faces up to eight charges including premeditated murder, Prawut said.
Dozens of local and international media waited on Saturday afternoon at the Erawan shrine in central Bangkok where Karadag was due to undergo a re-enactment of his alleged role in the crime – a standard Thai police procedure.
The unprecedented attack in the heart of Bangkok’s bustling commercial district stunned the country and dealt a fresh blow to Thailand’s reputation as a tourist haven.
Most of the blast’s fatalities were Chinese visitors, who believe prayers at the shrine bring good fortune. More than 100 other people were injured.
The motive for the bombing remains unclear but this month Thailand’s police chief linked the attack for the first time to China’s Uighur minority, after weeks of speculation over their role.
Somyot Poompanmoung blamed the blast on a gang of people-smugglers motivated by revenge following a crackdown on their lucrative trade, including the transfer of Uighurs.
That motive has been widely dismissed by security experts, who instead have pointed to Thailand’s forced deportation of 109 Uighurs to China in July, a move that ignited anger in Turkey where nationalist hardliners see the minority as part of a global Turkic-speaking family.