Updated at 5:09 p.m. ET on 2019-08-08
Police filed attempted murder charges Thursday against two men from Thailand’s insurgency-wracked Deep South for allegedly planting a device that did not explode outside national police headquarters, hours before a series of minor bombs exploded in Bangkok on Aug. 2.
Authorities filed warrants on the charges against Wildar Maha, 29, and Lu-Ai Sae Ngae, 22, who were being held under an emergency decree following their arrests in southern Thailand last week, National Police Chief Gen. Chakthip Chaichinda and Lt. Gen. Suwat Changyodsuk told a news conference in Bangkok.
“We charged them with attempted murder because there was a bomb package laid in a crowded area that could cause death to others even though they failed to go off. We do this is in line with the law, case by case,” Suwat said.
Apart from attempted murder, the two suspects were charged with possessing explosive devices and soliciting others to join a criminal enterprise, the officials said. The suspects were arrested in southern Thailand hours before the bomb blasts in Bangkok. They could face life in prison if convicted.
“We had arrest warrants out against the two suspects who are under custody in a police office in Yala ... we are proceeding with criminal offenses,” Suwat said, referring to one of the provinces in the Thai Deep South.
In addition to the device found at the headquarters of the National Police Bureau, nine bombs or incendiary devices – timed to go off and powered by batteries – were planted at four locations in and around Bangkok, Chakthip and Suwat said. Not all the devices exploded, they said.
Police have not linked Wildar and Lu-Ai directly with the other bomb incidents in Bangkok last Friday.
Seven other suspects were arrested since Friday and remain in police custody but have not been charged. Officials said as many as 15 people could have been involved in the attacks.
Suwat said Wildar and Lu-Ai were identified from surveillance camera footage around the police headquarters, adding that DNA tests were not complete. Crime records from the Deep South also showed that the two suspects were allegedly involved in previous attacks, giving investigators sufficient evidence to proceed with the case, the senior police officials said.
“These two are suspects in a marine outpost attack and car blasts,” Suwat said.
Police officials said the pair tried to disguise themselves as they left Bangkok, but officers eventually captured them in Chum Phon province in southern Thailand. A relative of one of the men had said they had been in Bangkok, but were sightseeing.
“They had in their backpacks five pairs of shoes, five pants, five caps and five eyeglasses and masks, you just ask whether they are smart or dumb,” said Suwat, referring to the evidence collected from the pair.
Security camera footage revealed that the two kept changing their clothes as they were traveling, police said.
On the day of the bombings which injured four, none seriously, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters that the attacks were aimed at disrupting a meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, the United States and other countries.
On Thursday, Chakthip told reporters that most of about 20 bomb explosions that had occurred in Bangkok since 2001 were tied to politics.
“In my personal point of view, 80 to 90 percent of Bangkok blasts were politically motivated,” Chakthip said. “We all have the same key questions: Is it political? Who ordered it?”
No groups have claimed responsibility.
“In my experience in the Deep South, no one claims responsibility after attacks no matter if they are BRN, PULO, RKK, MARA Patani, unlike in foreign countries. None do it in our country,” he said, using acronyms for Deep South insurgent groups as well as naming a panel representing rebel organizations in regional peace talks with the Thai government.
About 7,000 people have died in violence since the separatist insurgency reignited in the Muslim-dominated Deep South in 2004.
In Bangkok on Thursday, Suwat said police were trying to catch those who ordered the two charged suspects to plant the device.
“We try to focus on and catch all involved. The two are at the bottom of the chain where there is secrecy within the group. They are well practiced,” he said.
“The suspicion of insurgency is one theory, we don’t rule out any possibilities,” Suwat said. “I won’t prematurely name suspects until we have solid evidence to prosecute them.”