The Bangkok bombing is still a complete mystery

The Bangkok Bombing Is Still a Complete Mystery

The Bangkok Bombing Is Still a Complete Mystery

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Aug. 19 2015 4:59 PM

The Bangkok Bombing Is Still a Complete Mystery

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A man wearing a yellow T-shirt and carrying a backpack is seen walking near the Erawan shrine, where a bomb blast killed 22 people on Monday, in Bangkok, in this still taken from closed-circuit TV footage, released by the Thai Police on Aug. 18, 2015.

Photos courtesy Thai Police/Handout via Reuters

Thai police believe the man in the images above carried out the bombing at a shrine in a popular tourist area of Bangkok on Monday that killed 20 people and injured more than 120. Security footage shows him leaving a black backpack at the shrine about 15 minutes before the explosion. A police spokesman noted that he "looks like a foreigner" but could be wearing a disguise. The national police chief said he believes the bombing was the work of a “network” with “some Thais involved.” Police also believe that a second incident on Tuesday, in which a pipe bomb was thrown from a bridge onto a ferry pier used by tourists, may be related. No one was injured in that attack.  

So far, authorities have not floated any plausible explanations of motive. As I wrote Monday, Thailand has seen its share of political violence in recent years, but the bombing incident doesn’t fit with the past activities of either the Muslim separatists fighting in the country’s south or the anti-government protesters who periodically clash with police in the Thai capital.

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If the perpetrator is, in fact, a foreigner, it could raise the possibility that international terrorist groups are involved. Jihadis have targeted tourists in Southeast Asia before, notably the 2002 Bali bombings carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah. But there’s been little evidence of international terrorist organizations operating in Thailand, and notably, no group has yet claimed reasonability for the Bangkok attack.

The video looks pretty damning, but it’s worth noting that security footage has led to false identifications of suspects, including mistaken ethnicities, after a number of attacks in the past, including the attempted 2010 Times Square bombing, and—with more tragic consequences—the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Already, this week, an Australian actor living in Bangkok has been falsely accused on social media of being the man in the video. After 26-year-old Sunny Burns was cleared by the police, he joked on Instagram, "I would never wear those clothing  — I'm a fashion blogger." 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.