Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

Manhunt underway for bomb suspect in blast that killed 22 at Thai shrine

Police say man in yellow shirt with backpack seen shortly before explosion ‘is the bomber’

Thai police were hunting Tuesday for a man seen in security footage wearing a yellow T-shirt and carrying a backpack who they believe was responsible for a devastating bombing at a central Bangkok shrine on Monday that killed 22 people and injured more than 100.

Thai police distributed pictures of the suspect.
Royal Thai Police via AP

"The yellow shirt guy is not just the suspect. He is the bomber," Police Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri, a police spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Prawut earlier released several photos of the man, with and without the backpack, on a social media platform. The images were apparently from closed-circuit video at the Erawan Shrine on Monday before the explosion.

Video footage posted separately on Thai media appeared to show the same man sitting on a bench at the crowded shrine, taking off the backpack, leaving it behind and walking away.

The manhunt comes as Thailand continues to seek a motive for the attack, at a busy intersection in an area popular with tourists. To date, no group has claimed responsibility.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called the explosion "the worst incident that has ever happened in Thailand" and promised to track down those responsible. "There have been minor bombs or just noise, but this time they aimed for innocent lives," he said. "They want to destroy our economy, our tourism."

Without elaborating about possible perpetrators, he said Tuesday, "Today we have seen the closed-circuit footage. We saw some suspects, but it wasn't clear. We have to find them first."

The improvised explosive device scattered body parts, spattered blood, blasted windows and charred motorbikes. The explosion went off around 7 p.m. in an upscale area filled with tourists, office workers and shoppers.

Bangkok was rocked again Tuesday when another bomb blew up at a ferry pier. No one was hurt in the that incident, and it is unknown if it is linked to Monday’s attack.

Police Senior Sgt. Maj. Worapong Boonthawee said an explosive device was thrown from the Taksin Bridge and blew up at Sathorn Pier after falling into the Chao Phraya River below. "There is no injury," he said. Security camera footage shows a sudden blast of water over a walkway at the pier as bystanders run for safety.

Prayuth gave his first televised address since the bombing Tuesday, saying the government will expedite "all investigative efforts to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

Thai authorities said a number of Chinese tourists were among the victims of the shrine blast.

Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said authorities had no idea an attack was planned. "We didn't know about this ahead of time. We had no intelligence on this attack," he said.

Prayuth vowed to "hurry and find the bombers," though he said there may be just one perpetrator. Speaking to reporters, he continued what has been a notoriously prickly relationship with the media since he took control of the government in a May 2014 coup.

Asked if there were leads on the suspects' identities, Prayuth, a former general, bristled, saying, "We are still investigating. The bomb has just exploded. Why are you asking now? Do you understand the word 'investigation'? It's not as if they claim responsibility."

Thailand has seen many attacks in recent years, particularly related to an insurgency more than a decade old by Muslim separatists in the country's far south that has left more than 5,000 people dead. But those attacks never extended to the capital or were on the scale of Monday’s attack.

Bangkok has seen politically charged violence over the past decade as well. The deadliest, in 2010, saw more than 90 fatalities over two months and was centered on the same intersection where Monday's bomb went off. But none of those assaults included a bombing apparently intended to produce mass casualties.

Matthew Wheeler, a Southeast Asia security analyst for the International Crisis Group, said the explosion was a "new type of attack for Bangkok" that doesn't bear the trademarks of typical violence over the past decade from political instability or Muslim separatists.

"It is certainly not like politically motivated attacks we've seen in the past, which have generally been designed to grab attention but not cause casualties," he said, adding that he expected it would have "major ramifications for security in Thailand."

Bangkok has been relatively peaceful since a military coup ousted a civilian government in May last year after several months of sometimes violent political protests against the previous government.

At the same time, the military government has tightly controlled dissent, arresting hundreds of its opponents and banning protests. Tensions have risen in recent months, with the junta making clear that it may not hold elections until 2017 and wants a constitution that will allow some type of emergency rule to take the place of an elected government.

Still commanding a wide following in the country is exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was deposed last year.

Last week Thaksin posted a message on YouTube urging his followers to reject the draft constitution because it is undemocratic. The draft charter is supposed to be voted on next month by a special national reform council. If the draft passes, it is supposed to go to a national referendum around January.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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