Police investigating Thailand's deadliest bombing issued arrest warrants on Monday for two suspects — then congratulated themselves on an earlier arrest, and said they would give themselves the money offered as a reward.
Police were looking for a 26-year-old Thai woman and a foreign man in his 40s after expanding their search to a property in Bangkok’s Min Buri district. They found fertilizer, digital watches and an explosives detonator.
That came after a raid on an a decaying apartment building in the nearby Nong Chok district on Saturday, when police arrested a foreigner and seized several kinds of explosives and more than 200 passports.
The Aug. 17 attack on a Bangkok religious shrine killed 20 people and injured more than 100. Fourteen foreigners were among those killed in a blast the military government said was aimed at dealing a blow to an already ailing economy, for which tourism has become crucial.
A picture of the female suspect showed her wearing a hijab. She rented the room occupied by the foreign man, for whom police issued the second arrest warrant, spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said. A sketch of the man showed him with cropped hair and a short moustache.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha indicated that at least one of the two suspects had been caught on closed-circuit cameras on the day of the bombing. However, he did not specify the location covered by the surveillance video.
Police have not confirmed the identity or nationality of the 28-year-old man they arrested on Saturday in the busy Nong Chok, area, where many Thai Muslims and foreigners live. He is charged with possessing illegal explosives. His identity and nationality are unknown.
Army chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr said the man was definitely involved in the shrine bombing and authorities were trying to extract information from him, but were withholding some to avoid jeopardizing the investigation.
The police congratulated themselves on Monday for making the arrest, and said they would give themselves an $84,000 reward, though the man has not been charged — let alone convicted — and may not be the prime suspect.
The reward was originally offered to the public for tips leading to the arrest of suspects, but National Police Chief Somyot Poompanmoung said he was taking the unusual step of redirecting the cash to highlight that Thailand's police are good at their job.
Somyot made the announcement at a news conference Monday, saying he had “good news.”
“Give me the bag,” he said, turning to an aide who rushed over with stacks of cash that Somyot placed on the podium before him.
“This is real money,” the police chief said with a smile. He went on to say that Saturday's arrest was thanks to “good police work” and had not come from any outside tips.
“It is the ability of Thai officials that led to the arrest,” he said. “This money should be given to officials who did their job.”
The decision quickly added to criticism on social media. Police have been slammed for an erratic investigation that had, until this weekend, uncovered few clues about who was behind the blast. No group has claimed responsibility.
The bright pink budget apartment in Min Buri was raided twice during the weekend and media were allowed to observe searches on Sunday while residents, many of them Muslim, were present.
Speculation on who was involved has focused on ethnic Malay Muslim separatists in Thailand’s far south, as well as opponents of the government, foreign radicals and sympathizers with Uighur Muslims in China, among other groups. Thailand drew international outrage last month when it forcibly repatriated more than 100 Uyghurs to China.
Many of the minority Uighurs have sought passage to Turkey via Southeast Asia.
“We don't want our home to be the rest stop, or the passing point of unusual migration,” Prayuth said. ”This is where the network may be hiding. That's why this could also be a reason ... a conflict because authorities are becoming more strict.”