BANGKOK — Two Uighur men suspected of carrying out a deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine last year were set to enter a plea on Tuesday over the unprecedented attack on the heart of the Thai capital.
Bilal Mohammed, also known as Adem Karadag, and Yusufu Mieraili arrived barefoot, handcuffed and in ankle chains, at the military court where the hearing was to begin early on Tuesday.
They are charged with attempted and premeditated murder, possession of illegal weapons and illegal entry over the August 17 attack.
The bomb killed 20 people and wounded scores more at a shrine popular with ethnic Chinese tourists.
Police say the pair have admitted in previous interviews to their roles in the attack.
Thai police allege that Mohammed, the first person to be arrested, is the man seen in CCTV footage wearing a yellow T-shirt and placing a backpack at the Erawan shrine moments before the explosion.
But ahead of Tuesday's plea hearing his lawyer, Schoochart Kanpai, alleged his client had been "tortured to confess" to the crime.
He did not give further details of the alleged torture.
"The suspects will deny the bombing and murder charges – they confess only to a charge of illegal entry," Schoochart said late on Monday.
Mieraili, 25, was detained in early September near the border with Cambodia holding a Chinese passport.
Their likely denials come several months after Schoochart told reporters that Mohammed had in fact admitted to the bombing, acting on the orders of an apparent mastermind – who is still at large.
Six months after the blast mystery still surrounds the motive for the attack, in which the majority of the dead were ethnic Chinese tourists.
Thailand's key tourist industry was rattled by the bombing, which struck the packed shrine at peak hours and raised fears over security in the kingdom.
But normality swiftly returned to Bangkok and the case has almost entirely slipped from the news pages – taking with it the pressure on authorities to arrest further suspects.
Speculation has centred on a link to militants or supporters of the Uighurs, an ethnic group who say they face severe persecution in China, after Thailand forcibly repatriated 109 of the minority in July.
Mohammed's lawyer says he is a Chinese Uighur who settled in Turkey while Mieraili is a Chinese passport-holder of Uighur ethnicity.
Thai authorities have rejected the theory that the bomb was a revenge attack for the deportations.
Instead investigators have stuck to the line that it was carried out by a people-smuggling gang angered by a crackdown on its business – a theory many analysts have questioned.
More than a dozen other people – both foreigners and Thais – are wanted over the blast. But the two suspects are the only ones in custody so far. — AFP