BANGKOK – So the Bangkok Bomber, a.k.a. The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt, according to the Thai police electronic sketch, is a hybrid. He may be a Westerner. He may be a Middle Easterner. But he may not be a Thai. He’s got to be a “foreigner.” A cross-pollinated Eurasian, maybe?
Now Thai investigators seem to have established the yellow T-shirted uber-target was part of a network of at least 10 members. Some of them … Thai. The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt did speak in English to the motorbike taxi driver who transported him from nearby the Erawan shrine – the site of the bombing – to his next destination in a soi (side-street) off business thoroughfare Silom road, a short ride of no more than 5 minutes.
The “network” being investigated may be international, then. But according to Winthai Suvari, spokesman for the – quaintly Orwellian – National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official denomination of the military junta ruling Thailand since May 2014, it is “unlikely” to be linked to global terror/jihad.
So, in principle, no ISIS/ISIL/Daesh – much to the consternation of the American security “experts” who are briefing CNN, as well as scores of instant Southeast Asia-based “terror analysts.”
No dodgy transiting Chechens. No disgruntled Muslim separatists from southern Thailand – instrumentalized or not. And even no shady transiting Uyghurs, furious after the NCPO deported over 100 back to China. The Uyghur angle was personally debunked by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Winthai also disclosed a fascinating piece of information; Thai investigators have concluded Chinese tourists were not the prime targets of the Bangkok Bomber — even though they make up the largest demographic holidaying in Thailand. After all several other foreign tourists — mostly Asians — were at the Erawan shrine as the bomb went off, not to mention Thais.
And here we’re hurled smack back into a very Thai wilderness of mirrors already evoked by Asia Times. From the beginning, the NCPO has sworn the bombing was against tourism and the economy. Which also means against the current government — who is supervising both. And that begs the inevitable question — about which interests and what sort of “international network” are best served by creating such chaos.
As seen on TV
General Prime Minister Prayut never shies away from a blockbuster sound bite. He seems to know how Thai investigators should solve the bombing puzzle; by watching Blue Bloods — yet another NYPD-related show; “They (the investigators) will get tips, ideas and insights for their case.” Tom Selleck to the rescue, then.
Well, Tom Selleck would be appalled by one of this week’s investigating subplots. At the very night of the bombing, in a cinematic Bangkok Dangerous submerged by rumors and fear, some elements of the Thai police were sure fate (Buddha? Brahma?) had handed them over the prime suspect on a plate.
The ordeal of someone I prefer to name EU Citizen, to protect his privacy is — somewhat — described here. EU Citizen happens to be the youngest son of one of my closest friends in France. As we sat at the Oriental Hotel — not far from the always crowded pier in which a second bomb, on Tuesday, almost caused another mass carnage, but ended up exploding in the water — a more harrowing story began to emerge.
EU Citizen’s mistake was trying to catch a flight in the worst place at the worst possible time. He did not board his flight back to Europe because of a scratch in his passport photo; a problem that did not prevent him from entering Thailand in the first place.
But “as he resembled the wanted bomb suspect” he ended up being arrested as he waited for the Airport Rail Link to go back to town, and “questioned” for two hours in Thai – with no translators and no right for a phone call. The “interrogation” consisted of a bunch of tourist police showing him the footage of the Guy in the Yellow T-shirt, pointing at him, and shouting, “It’s you! It’s you!” Well, EU Citizen hardly resembles the bomb suspect.
EU Citizen eventually managed to leave the police post and go back to town. Yet the next morning, when he went to the French embassy by the Chao Phraya river to get a laissez-passer to replace his damaged passport, he was snatched by a police commando right in front of the embassy; a sting witnessed by a mob of TV cameras.
EU Citizen was forced to reconstitute in detail all the itinerary of his Thai holidays – complete with a further police trip to the hotel he stayed in Bangkok on the night of the bombing. Yet this time the “special team” seemed to have watched the right TV shows; the inquisitor spoke decent English and EU Citizen was allowed a translator from the French embassy.
Finally, on Wednesday night, EU Citizen managed to board a new flight back to Europe, as Gen Jaktip Chaichinda, no less than the next national police chief starting next month, finally confirmed he was not The Guy in the Yellow T-shirt. And yet, for scores of Facebook users in Thailand, and for an untold number of TV viewers, he was.
As Thai investigators may keep channeling multiple variations of televised NYPD methods, broadening the scope of the investigation, with Interpol involved, could potentially generate the perfect geopolitical storm.
Consider three facts.
Fact 1: weeks before the bombing, the media rhetoric of the usual corporate suspects against the Thai military was ratcheted up — from “slap on the wrist” mode to full demonization.
Fact 2: the Obama administration is absolutely furious because Thailand is not on board with the TPP negotiations. TPP, of course, is the NATO-on-trade arm of the “pivoting to Asia.”
Fact 3: multiple Beltway factions are even more furious because of the very close trade/strategic relationship of the NCPO with Beijing.
So, geopolitically, we could enter prime time conspiracy territory — as in a Terminator version of “pivoting to Asia.” But what about internally?
The answer might lie in a shadowy game that is virtually off-limits for foreigners; the promotion lists issued this month for assorted Thai military forces — army, air force, navy. Who went up, down or was outright excluded offers a clue to who is aching to hugely discredit the NCPO.
Another intriguing factor is how unscathed the Erawan shrine actually is (already re-opened for business, with huge crowds). That spells out an enormously skilled (lucky?) Guy in a Yellow T-shirt. And that’s yet another prime instance of Thai wilderness of mirrors. The shrine has been a key spectator/victim of political attacks and counter-attacks for years — and whatever happens to it carries a wealth of symbolic implications across the whole spectrum of Thai culture.
And that leads to the implausibility of arguments attributing the Erawan and the (failed) pier bombs to Chechens, Uyghurs or Southern Muslim separatists. A Bangkok Dangerous inside job? Not even Tom Selleck can answer that.
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