Authorities on Wednesday charged three men from Thailand’s Deep South over an alleged plot to bomb tourist sites in the greater Bangkok area, but said the suspects were not linked to a southern insurgency.
The three, who were formally arrested on Tuesday, are the first suspects to be arrested and charged in connection with the alleged plot, the deputy police chief said.
They were picked up on Oct. 17 during security sweeps mounted in and around Bangkok after authorities had received an intelligence report warning of car-bomb plots targeting the greater metropolitan area, Police Gen. Srivarah Rangsipramanakul told reporters in Bangkok.
“Officials have evidence so that arrest warrants were approved,” Srivarah said. “For the reason why they would do it, interrogators are questioning them. Some of them admitted plotting attacks, but some did not.”
He said the suspects were charged with criminal possession of bomb-making materials and taking part in a conspiracy to commit an act of violence, among other charges.
Srivarah identified the suspects as Talmesi Totanyong, 31, Abdulrashir Suekaji, 19, and Mubari Kana, 22, saying they all hailed from Narathiwat, a province in the predominantly Muslim Deep South. A separatist insurgency has raged for decades in Thailand’s southern border region, claiming more than 6,700 lives since 2004.
After being detained in the Bangkok area in October, the three were taken to Fort Inkayuth Borihan, an army camp in the Deep South province of Pattani where they were held until Tuesday, Srivarah said.
A court in Narathiwat released them from military custody but they were transferred to police custody and flown to Bangkok, where they were charged at the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) on Wednesday. Warrants for their arrest had been issued on Nov. 25, the deputy police chief said.
“I ordered the southern police operations center to further investigate the case. Some suspects gave us useful information so that we believe we can issue arrest warrants on the upper-level leader in the Deep South,” he told reporters at the CSD.
But he denied that the alleged bomb plot targeting the greater Bangkok area was connected to the insurgency.
“All three came from the southern provinces and were prepared to carry out an attack in Bangkok and surrounding areas, but we believe they are not separatists,” Reuters quoted the deputy police chief as saying. “They planned to target tourist sites.”
Srivarah gave no other details.
Last year, the Thai capital was the site of a bombing that targeted the Erawan Shrine, a Bangkok landmark popular with tourists, and left 20 people dead and 125 injured. Two Uyghur men have been charged and put on trial in Bangkok in connection with the August 2015 attack on the Hindu shrine.
This past August, a series of coordinated bomb attacks killed four people and injured more than 30 others at tourist hotspots across southern Thailand.
But the provinces that were attacked on Aug. 11and 12 lie outside the confines of the Deep South, and Thai officials have denied that those bombings were linked to the southern insurgency.
However in September, a member of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – the largest of the armed separatist groups in the Deep South – claimed to BenarNews that his combat unit had carried out the attacks in the seven provinces farther north.