Why Bangkok blast may not be a terrorist attack

The only thing known about the bomber and motive at this time, however, is that nothing is known.

 |  3-minute read |   20-08-2015
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The August 17, 2015 explosion is of great concern to Indians because it targeted a popular Hindu shrine. Twenty-two are dead, and 120 plus injured. In such cases many of the injured are grievously disabled for life, so the toll cannot be confined to the dead alone. It appears the three-kg pipe bomb was contained in a backpack and detonated by a timer, allowing the bomber to get away.

As can be seen from this video, the blast had a 25-ft radius, one edge of which touches the shrine boundary. There was no real damage to the shrine, which has a simple foundation and a four-column canopy containing a flame. There are idols, but along one boundary, and were not damaged.

With Islamist fundamentalists on the rampage everywhere, naturally fears arose over the attack. The only thing known about the bomber and motive at this time, however, is that nothing is known.

The police say the bomber(s) could not have been a foreigner. Apparently on the same day, another pipe bomb was thrown off a nearby bridge and exploded harmlessly in a canal. The police say the same person built the two bombs and that foreigners cannot access the throw point without being seen. This a priori seems flimsy. Surely it takes more than a day for a complete forensic analysis. And no explanation is available as to why foreigners on the bridge must be visible.

Further, the footage of the alleged bomber walking away clearly shows a white person, not a Thai. Complicating the matter, an Australian went to the police to explain he is not, as rumoured, the person in the picture. He was released, and asked to return to clarify why a document was deficient.

The police see a link between separatist rebels, specifically the Red Shirts, and the bombing. The problem here is, as several analysts point out, planting bombs to kill people is not used by Thai rebels. Usually symbolic damage with zero casualties is their style. Thais are Buddhists, and respect all religions, making a deliberate attack a shrine seem unlikely. The shrine may have nothing to do with the bomber's choice: It is located at a busy intersection with many walkers, ensuring a large number of casualties.

Thailand has recently succumbed to Chinese pressures and started deporting Uighur refugees. But analysts say Uighur's attacks outside China are unknown. Besides, it does not make sense for refugees to stage deadly attacks on their country of asylum.

Could the incident be a protest against the military dictatorship? This possibility is ranked high on the list of reasons. Again, however, such attacks against civilians tend to strengthen the military, not weaken it. It is also suggested that the attack has something to do with a list of military promotions about to be released. Same problem: Why kill civilians and foreigners if you are aggrieved about military promotions?

The reasons/counter-reasons could be expanded. Clearly, however, everyone is simply grasping at straws. Most baffling is that no one has claimed responsibility. There is scarcely a point to terrorism if no claimant comes forward. To this analyst, based on the very few facts available, the only reason making some sense is to damp increasing criticism of the military dictatorship. In which case the military is responsible. While the technique of using "It isn't this, it isn't that", is perfectly valid as an analytical tool, at some point one does need hard data to draw conclusions. Particularly as such lists may well be incomplete because of lack of knowledge.

Writer

Ravi Rikhye Ravi Rikhye

The writer has 45 years of experience in South Asian military affairs.

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