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Faulty CCTV ‘curbs hunt for suspect

Posted by pakin On August - 25 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Most of the security cameras installed along the escape route used by the suspect in the Erawan shrine bombing were broken, which is hindering the investigation into the incident, according to the police chief.

National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang said Monday 15 of the 20 cameras from Ratchaprasong intersection to Silom were out of order.

The cameras are owned and maintained by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Pol Gen Somyot said the images obtained from the five working cameras do not give his men a complete picture of the incident. “The footage jumps around from one camera to another. And because some of the images were not available due to the broken cameras, we have had to rely on our own imagination,” the police chief said.

Police last week released a sketch of the prime suspect seen on CCTV footage leaving a rucksack at the Erawan shrine 15 minutes before the explosion.

A male suspect in a yellow T-shirt was seen on the surveillance images leaving the shrine after allegedly planting the bomb there on Aug 17. After he left the shrine and the bomb exploded, he took a motorcycle taxi to Silom.

A source said earlier that police are looking for another taxi driver who picked the suspect up from Silom Soi 9 after the explosion. Police have questioned about 15 taxi drivers whose vehicles appeared in CCTV footage around that time.

The Metropolitan Police Bureau has conceded that it is difficult to say whether the suspect is still in the country. According to the latest reports, the suspect possibly entered Chulalongkorn Hospital, changed his clothes and then fled the country to Malaysia.

Pol Gen Somyot said the police are missing some essential photographic evidence and therefore they might need to expand the scope of the investigation to fill in the gaps.

The police chief added it was fortunate the security cameras at the Dusit Thani Hotel captured images of the suspect, which showed him heading to Hua Lamphong train station.

However, Pol Gen Somyot said the investigation into the bombing is moving forward.

The BMA, meanwhile, declined to confirm if the 15 cameras were broken. Tripob Khantayaporn, director of the BMA’s Traffic System Development Division, said the BMA operates security cameras throughout the city which are either directly connected to City Hall’s central control panel or are stand-alone ones.

Images from the control panel-linked cameras are constantly monitored whereas the pictures taken by the stand-alone ones are reviewed every 15 days.

He said the cameras may not produce clear pictures because they are designed to see the surrounding areas from a certain vantage point, which is different from police-operated cameras which can zoom in on traffic offenders.

Mr Tripob added that the BMA has around 57,000 CCTV cameras in Bangkok. Of these, about 10,000 are new and capable of taking high-resolution pictures.

Also Monday, chemical analysis of blast residue found at the Erawan shrine has detected nitrite but it is not sufficient to identify the bomb type, a source in the MPB’s explosive ordnance disposal unit said. The source told the Bangkok Post that nitrite is usually present in residue from C4 and TNT explosives so at this stage it cannot be determined if the device used in the Erawan bombing is C4 or TNT.

According to the source, the ball bearings used in the Erawan shrine and the Sathon pier explosions are from the same manufacturer. The ball bearings are about 6mm in diameter and are commonly found at hardware stores. “This type of bomb isn’t commonly used in Thailand. The latest was the bomb in Sukhumvit Soi 71, but it is unlikely it was made by the same person. Their signatures are different,” said the source.

A source at the Immigration Police Bureau also said intelligence reports from the National Security Council (NSC) indicate terrorists in Pakistan provide bomb-making training to various groups including Uighur extremists and insurgents in the deep South.

He said police are also investigating if there is any link between the blast and the hacking of six official websites by a group who claim to be an Islamic group from Tunisia.

Meanwhile, the National Council for Peace and Order said a total of 139 people have been arrested and a small amount of firearms and drugs confiscated in the Friday to Monday crackdown targeting tourist guesthouses and accommodations across the city.

The Justice Ministry and the Tourism and Sports Ministry have distributed financial support to the relatives of 16 of those killed in the bombing.

A total of 104 people have lodged petitions for financial aid. Out of the remaining injured, two people were discharged over the weekend, leaving the number of those being treated at various hospitals at 50.

Central Bangkok descended into chaos Monday evening when a bomb exploded at Ratchaprasong intersection, killing 20 people, including three foreigners, and injuring at least 125.

The explosion occurred about 7pm near the Brahmin statue at the Erawan Shrine on the intersection packed with evening rush-hour commuters and tourists, many of whom were visiting the shrine.

With a powerful flash caught on security video and a boom heard blocks away, the blast from the IED (improvised explosive device) scattered body parts across Rachaprasong intersection, spattered blood, blasted windows and burned motorbikes to the metal.

“Suddenly there was a big boom, and the whole room just shook, like someone dropped a wrecking ball on top of our ceiling,” said Pim Niyomwan, an English instructor working on the eighth floor of the building right next to the shrine. “The whole building just shook. My four students were hysterical.”

Police said the bomb was left on a bench beside the low fence of the shrine close to the intersection. Two objects suspected to be explosive devices were also discovered next to a nearby BTS station pillar near the shrine.

The national police chief, Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang and others called it a vicious act meant to target helpless civilians but stopped short of labelling it “terrorism”. No one or group had claimed responsibility by Tuesday morning.

At least three foreign nationals were among the dead, according to the national police chief. China’s embassy in Bangkok said two Chinese nationals were killed, the Xinhua news agency reported.

On Tuesday morning, police revised the human toll from the bomb, citing some confusion at the scene, and deaths that occurred in hospitals among the badly wounded.

As of 8am Tuesday, the toll stood at 20 dead, including the two Chinese and one Filipino. Police said 125 were injured badly enough to need medical care, but did not provide a breakdown of Thai and foreign victims.

About seven of the bodies were collected from the shrine by Por Teck Tung rescue volunteers.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was “shocked” to learn about the deadly explosion. He hopes that “those responsible will be brought to justice,” according to a statement from a UN spokesperson.

The United States, meanwhile, “condemns this deplorable act of violence,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The US embassy in Bangkok issued an “emergency message” to Americans in Bangkok informing them of the blast.

“US Embassy personnel are liaising closely with local authorities to gather information,” it said. “US citizens are advised to avoid the area and monitor local media for updates.”

At least five motorcycles caught fire. Police denied the bomb had been planted in a motorcycle.

At 7.15pm, police closed the intersection to traffic to allow bomb disposal experts to get to the scene and rescue workers to move in. BTS trains to the area were immediately halted.

Police chief Somyot said the bomb at the shrine was improvised, with gunpowder stuffed inside a pipe, and detonated in a similar way to how a TNT device is set off.

“It was a barbaric act perpetrated during a busy time and the attack was meant to kill people,” he said, adding the device was capable of causing destruction within a 40-metre radius.

Several bodies with visible burns were seen at the intersection, which was littered with human remains and debris from the blast. Rescue workers administered first aid to the injured, who sustained deep wounds and lacerations, and took them to the nearby Police General Hospital.

Some of the injured were also rushed to Ramathibodi, Rajavithi, Phramongkutklao, Chulalongkorn, Klang, Bangkok Christian and Phayathai 1 hospitals.

The emergency room of the Police General Hospital, which sits across Ratchaprasong intersection, was swamped last night attending to people hurt in the blasts.

A staff member said about 20 people rushed to the hospital were in critical condition.

The blast was the third and biggest bomb attack since the military coup. The first was an explosion outside the Paragon shopping complex on Feb 1, in which one person was slightly injured. The second was at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road on March 7, where there were no casualties.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha condemned the attack and ordered his deputy, Prawit Wongsuwon, to put security authorities on full alert, said Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a former deputy government spokesman.

He said Gen Prayut has ordered police, soldiers and city workers to inspect the blast scene and launch a thorough investigation.

According to Maj Gen Sansern, it is too early to speculate on the motive behind the blast but the government will take harsh action as it was a deliberate attempt to take people’s lives.

The prime minister urged the public to stay calm and not rush to share information about the bombing on social media, said Maj Gen Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, deputy government spokesman.

Security authorities are reviewing the situation before deciding if the internal security law will be invoked, a source said.

The 1st Cavalry Battalion, King’s Guard, issued alerts for 10 potentially dangerous areas following the blast. They are Ratchaprasong intersection, Pathumwan intersection, Silom Road, Khao San Road, Narathiwat intersection, the Victory Monument, Tuek Chai Intersection, Benjasiri Park, Soi Thong Lor and Sukhumvit Road.

Gen Prawit said the explosion targeted the country’s tourism sector as the attackers intentionally launched an attack in a crowded area popular with tourists.

British ambassador Mark Kent warned Britons in Thailand to be vigilant and stay updated on travel advice.

Police and soldiers set up checkpoints and are patrolling areas which could be targets, Gen Prawit said. He insisted there was no indication at this stage that the bombing was politically motivated though Deputy Defence Minister and army chief Udomdej Sitabutr said an attack by elements with “different views” could not be ruled out.

“It is possible that another such incident could occur,” he added.

UPDATE: Paragon bombs ‘homemade’

Posted by pakin On February - 2 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Two improvised time bombs exploded in front of Siam Paragon shopping centre Sunday evening, slightly injuring a man, police said.

Paragon and other retail outlets in the Siam Square/Siam Center area were closed, roads were blocked and shoppers and diners were evacuated from the area.

Pol Lt Gen Prawut Thawornsiri, a police spokesman, said the bombs were hidden behind a transformer at BMA Express Service, between the Siam BTS station and the luxury mall.

“Two homemade bombs exploded on a walkway between Siam BTS (skytrain) and Siam Paragon mall. They were hidden behind electric controls,” said Pol Lt Gen Prawut.

The two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were set on timers to explode at about 8pm, a peak time for shopping, entertainment and dining out in the Siam Square area. Despite this, Pol Lt Gen Prawut said the bombs “were not intended to kill”.

No motive for the attacks was given. Authorities at first told the media the bombing was the explosion of a power transformer of a Paragon billboard. They dropped that story and admitted the blasts were caused by bombs after several hours of investigation.

Thailand is officially under martial law, but police handled crowd control, and acted as spokesmen for the media. Spokesmen asked the public not to panic, despite the mishandling of the early hours of the investigation.

Army Col Winthai Suwaree, spokesman for both the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and for the army, said the military was involved in the police investigation but provided no details. He said the motive for the bombing was unknown.

Earlier Sunday, an adviser to the NCPO denied reports the military regime was considering a proposal to end martial law. Criticism of martial law peaked again last week after a senior US official, Daniel Russel, said Washington was opposed to the use of martial law.

Pol Lt Gen Prawut claimed the motive of the attack was likely to create panic rather than take lives. He did not provide any details of the IEDs, but denied early reports that the bombs contained nails.

Party’s on in Bangkok for New Year

Posted by pakin On December - 19 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Bangkok is the world’s 10th most popular destination among global travellers looking for a place to celebrate the New Year holiday, says TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site.

Meanwhile, Chiang Mai is the top destination of Thais for their New Year celebration.

Destination rankings were based on TripAdvisor searches for the New Year holiday period from Dec 27 to Jan 4.

Jean Ow-yeong, head of media relations at TripAdvisor Asia-Pacific, said Bangkok was the only Asian destination making the top 10 thanks to its attractive costs.

London, New York and Paris were the top three favourite destinations, in that order.

The average room rate for three- and four-star hotels in Bangkok during the New Year period is expected to rise by 18% to 2,499 baht a night.

London will see a 5% rise in the average room rate to 8,441 baht a night, New York 18% to 13,435 baht and Paris 5% to 8,010 baht.

TripAdvisor said Thai travellers favoured local destinations over international ones, with seven Thai locations in their top 10 including Chiang Mai at No.1.

The popularity of Chiang Mai will see the average room rate of three- and four-star hotels in the northern capital surge 61% to 3,001 baht a night.

After Chiang Mai, the next most popular destinations are Hua Hin and Bangkok, where room rates during the New Year period will average 4,999 and 2,449 baht a night, respectively.

TripAdvisor said Hong Kong was the most popular international New Year destination for Thai travellers. But any traveller planning a trip to Hong Kong should be prepared for sticker shock.

The average room rate during the New Year festival will be 17,195 baht a night, a whopping 194% higher than the average rate throughout the rest of 2014.

At home, cooler weather, falling oil prices and the extended New Year holiday period have led to predictions that revenue from domestic tourism will be at least 6.5 billion baht during the five-day weekend, said Anupharp Thirarath, deputy governor for domestic tourism at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

He predicts 1.7 million domestic trips from Dec 31 to Jan 4. Average hotel occupancy over the long weekend will be 70-80% nationwide, down only slightly from last year’s level.

Falling oil prices are expected to help boost domestic tourism, particularly automobile travel to within a 300-kilometre radius from Bangkok, Mr Anupharp said.

Popular destinations include Rayong, Chanthaburi, Trat, Hua Hin, Chumphon, Nakhon Sawan and Khao Yai.

Yutthachai Soonthronrattanavate, president of the Association of Domestic Travel, agreed lower oil prices would benefit domestic tourism.