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The trial of the suspects in the 2015 shrine bombing in Bangkok resumes


BANGKOK — A Thai court on Tuesday resumed the long-delayed trial of two members of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority accused of carrying out a 2015 bomb attack on a monument in Bangkok that killed 20 people.

Another 120 people were injured in the August 17, 2015 bombing of Erawan Shrine, which is popular among Chinese and other tourists.

Thai authorities have said the bombing was revenge of a people-smuggling gang whose activities had been disrupted by a crackdown. Thailand cracked down on traffickers earlier in 2015 after abandoned camps for Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Myanmar and economic migrants from Bangladesh were found in the jungles along the Thai-Malaysian border. Officials have given few details about what the link to the bombing might be, but many Uyghurs are trying to escape prosecution and tight scrutiny in China with the help of professional smugglers.

However, some analysts suspect that the bombing was the work of Uyghur separatists angry that Thailand forcibly repatriated dozens of Uyghurs to China in July of that year. The shrine’s popularity among Chinese tourists seemed to support the theory that the bombing had a political element.

The defendants, Mieraili Yusufu and Bilal Mohammad, pleaded not guilty when the trial began in 2016, saying they were mistreated and tortured in prison after their arrests. Police said they believe Yusufu detonated the bomb minutes after Mohammad left a backpack containing the device at the shrine.

The last hearing of their trial, which was repeatedly delayed by difficulties in finding suitable translators, was in 2019, said Chuchart Kanpai, a lawyer for Mohammad. The case was then transferred from a military court that previously had jurisdiction to the civil court in southern Bangkok following a return to an elected civilian government following a military coup. But the court proceedings were subsequently suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it will be another two years before we see any results. This year the case will not make much progress. We can only take two or three witnesses a day and we have two to three hundred witnesses left on the plaintiff’s side,” he said.

The defendants are believed to be the only two suspects in custody of the 17 people authorities believe were responsible for the bombing. Some of the other suspects are Turks, with whom Uighurs have an ethnic connection.

Police said the case against the two defendants is supported by security video, witnesses, DNA matching and physical evidence, in addition to the alleged confessions of the suspects.

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