Bangkok bombing: City prays for justice for 20 killed in terror attack on Erawan Shrine

As the shrine reopens, Thailand trebles its bounty to find the bomber that authorities claim is a 'foreigner'

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The Independent Online

As night fell, the woman paused in prayer at the Erawan Shrine, her hands clasped and eyes closed, standing by a table covered with floral garlands. The mood was sombre at the popular Bangkok attraction, as visitors wandered quietly around, their low chatter interspersed with the loud sounds of nearby traffic – and of workers drilling and cutting into concrete slabs.

It had reopened that morning with a prayer ceremony led by Thai Buddhist monks, less than 48 hours after the explosion that killed 20 and injured 120 others.

The open-air shrine, which houses a statue of the Hindu god Brahma, had been restored, with fresh cement poured into the bomb crater and the blood and debris of slaughter scrubbed away. The statue itself was mostly intact, with chunks torn from just one of its four visages, but mangled metal railings were a prominent hint of the devastation wrought by a pipe bomb, made up of seven pounds of explosives and ball bearings.

 

 

 

Throughout the day waves of visitors arrived to light incense and candles, make floral and food offerings and bow their heads in reflection, some kneeling in prayer. Nervous-looking flower vendors had reopened their stalls of tall, colourful garlands, workers diligently cleaned around the shrine, and diplomatic envoys from the US and Holland came to pay their respects, surrounded by cameras. Most poignantly of all, relatives of a Malaysian family visiting Bangkok on holiday, four of whose seven members were killed by the bomb, laid down clothing, money and other offerings to assist the victims’ spirits in the afterlife.

Police officers chatting with Thais and tourists were evidence of the tightened security presence in the area. Some visitors photographed the flowers and handwritten tributes, one saying “Rest in Peace! Be stronger Thailand.” A Thai woman leant against the railing as she looked towards the statue and tightly hugged her young daughter.

 

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An artist’s impression of the suspected bomber

Police have issued an arrest warrant for the main bombing suspect, who was captured on CCTV walking into the shrine and offloading an oversized backpack minutes before the explosion. They released a sketch composed from the footage and announced a one million baht (£18,000) reward for information leading to his arrest. Somwang Assarasee, leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, later increased the bounty to three million baht.

Authorities claimed the bomber was a “foreigner”, but did not elaborate on how they knew this. His ethnicity was unclear from the images, but national police spokesman Pol Lt Gen Prawut Thavornsiri described him as “khaek khao”, a Thai phrase often used to describe light-skinned Muslims from South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.

“He’s likely to be white skinned, might be khaek khao, if he is a foreigner. But he’s not a big guy, his height is a little bit above 170cm,” another senior officer, Pol Lt Gen Prawut, told Thailand’s Channel 3 News. He later told reporters that the prime suspect was overheard speaking a foreign language that was not English.

Police added that they believed the suspect was working within a “network” and must have had accomplices to assemble the explosives and plan the attack. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha called for the bomber and others thought to be involved to turn themselves in “for their own safety”, saying otherwise they could be killed by the people who had hired them to set off the explosives.

National police chief Pol Gen Somyot Pumpanmuang said: “The motive [of the bombers] is to discredit the government and make it unacceptable to other countries when it comes to safety in the country.”

Gen Prayuth thanked the international community for its support but rejected an offer from Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to assist in the investigation. British national Vivian Chan, 19, a resident of Hong Kong, was among those who died in the blast on Monday.

“Do we want foreign countries to intervene in every issue? It is a breach of sovereignty... there is no need to get outsiders involved. They are welcome to give advice, but they can’t take part in the investigation because it happened in Thailand,” he said.

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