BANGKOK/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A key suspect in the plotting of last month’s deadly bombing in Bangkok was last tracked via multiple flights to Turkey, Thai police said on Monday, and Malaysia announced it had made three arrests related to the attack.
No group has claimed responsibility for the Aug. 17 bombing at the Erawan Hindu shrine, which killed 20 people, including 14 foreigners, among them seven from Hong Kong and mainland China.
The man Thai authorities say played a leadership role in the bombing fled to Bangladesh using a Chinese passport on the eve of the blast and two weeks later transited in New Delhi and Abu Dhabi on his way to Istanbul, police said.
An arrest warrant has been issued for a man using the name Abu Dustar Abdulrahman, alias Izan, and circulated via Interpol.
“We have evidence from the Bangladeshi Embassy that Izan went to Abu Dhabi and then to Turkey,” police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said, adding the Turkish embassy had been notified.
But a senior Turkish government official contradicted this account. “There is no record of the suspect having entered Turkey. Nor have the Thai authorities informed us that a terrorism suspect was traveling to Turkey,” the official told Reuters.
He added reports about a Turkish citizen involved in the shrine attack were false. “At this point, we’re working very hard to understand what the Thai government is trying to accomplish by desperately trying to associate Turkey with the attack,” he said.
In Kuala Lumpur, police said two Malaysians and a Pakistani national had been arrested and were assisting with the investigation.
“Malaysian and Thai police are working closely,” Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, told reporters.
Initially, Thai police said they were unaware of those arrests. Prawut later said they were held over people smuggling and Malaysian counterparts believed they may have helped those involved in the Bangkok plot to escape.
Thailand had been following a lead that the suspected bomber, a yellow-shirted man caught on a security camera leaving the device at the shrine, could have been in Malaysia.
Police have been criticized for not finding answers as their investigation enters a fourth week with no clarity about the motive or affiliation of those behind Bangkok’s deadliest bombing.
The investigation has gained momentum since one of two detainees police refer to as Yusufu Mieraili, implicated a man called Izan, and admitted delivering a backpack to the yellow-shirted fugitive assumed to be the bomber.
Thai visas were issued separately in Kuala Lumpur to men using the names Abu Dustar Abdulrahman and Yusufu Mieraili.
Both had applied using Chinese passports, which has led to speculation the bombing may have been revenge by sympathizers of Uighur Muslims, many of which seek passage to Turkey via Thailand.
Thailand was condemned in July for forcibly repatriating 109 Uighurs to China, where they say they are persecuted, an accusation Beijing rejects.
Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in ANKARA; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez