BANGKOK – Thai police said Wednesday that a key suspect has admitted to meeting the alleged Bangkok shrine bomber outside a train station and handing him a heavy backpack containing a bomb just before the blast occurred the night of Aug. 17.
Police announced the development as they escorted the suspect, identified as Yusufu Mierili, to the scene of the alleged handover and also to the Erawan Shrine, where the blast killed 20 people, for a public reenactment of his role and movements before and after the explosion.
Public reenactments conducted in front of the media are a common part of Thai criminal investigations, although they have been criticized for implying a suspect's guilt before a trial. The suspect in Wednesday's reenactment has not yet been formally charged but police say he was a member of the network that carried out the attack.
The latest disclosure by the police appeared to be another element in reconstructing the attack, which has growing links to China's Uighur extremists, although Thai authorities have not explicitly acknowledged that. Authorities have said that publicly calling the blast an act of terrorism would harm its image as a tourist destination.
Thai authorities have suggested that at least two of the suspects are Turkish and that Mierili holds a Chinese passport, boosting a theory that the bombing was to avenge Thailand's forced repatriation of more than 100 ethnic Uighurs to China in July. Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) are related to Turks, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community.
On Wednesday, police and armed commandoes escorted Mierili to Bangkok's Hua Lamphong train station where he allegedly handed a heavy backpack to the suspected bomber, who was seen in security camera footage wearing a yellow T-shirt and leaving a large, black backpack at the open-air shrine just minutes before the blast.
"This place is where he met with the yellow-shirt man to exchange a backpack," national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters outside the train station.
"Yusufu said the backpack that he carried was heavy and it was a bomb," Prawut said. It remained unclear who made the bomb and who allegedly placed it inside the backpack. Prawut did not say if Mierili's involvement was limited to carrying the backpack or if he is suspected of also being a bomb-maker.
Mierili told police that he had carried the backpack from an apartment in the Nong Chok district of Bangkok's outskirts, an apartment where police found bomb-making materials during a raid on Aug. 29.
After the hand-off the two men went their separate ways, Prawut said.
Mierili -- who police have also identified as Yusufu Mieraili -- was arrested Sept. 1 at the Thai-Cambodia border. Police say they found his fingerprints on a container of gunpowder at the apartment in Nong Chok. He faces charges of conspiracy to possess unauthorized explosives.