The fatal bomb attack in Bangkok last month was partly motivated by Thailand’s earlier deportation of ethnic Uighurs to China, police said Tuesday.
The repatriation of 109 members of the Muslim minority in July disrupted the operations of human traffickers smuggling the refugees into the country, Thai National Police Chief Somyot Poompanmouang said.
“We suspect the bombings were in retaliation,” he said. “The traffickers are angry that we destroyed their businesses and angry that police shut down their illegal networks.”
The August 17 blast at a shrine in the city centre left 20 dead and more than 100 injured.
Somyot defended the Uighurs’ deportations, saying Thailand “should not be used as a transit point” for trafficking.
The crackdown on illegal migration could also be linked to the storming of the Thai consulate in Istanbul in July by related networks, he said.
Last week, police had asked reporters not to link the bombing to the Uighurs.
On Monday, police said the alleged bombing mastermind had fled to Turkey, not China as previously reported.
Chinese national Abudusataer Abudureheman, 27, also known as Ishan, has been identified by other suspects as the main organizer of the attack.
Somyot said Abudureheman was likely supported by elements of his human trafficking networks that operated in Turkey.
Turkish diplomats in Ankara and Bangkok said they have requested clarification from the Thai government.
“We are in contact with the Thai ambassador,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu News Agency.
“I cannot say anything about this person entering and leaving Turkey.”
Security specialists have said a Uighur connection is likely in the attack, but as an act of solidarity from other Muslim groups, rather than revenge by traffickers.
Some have speculated that the most likely culprits were extremist Turkish groups, claims previously denied by Thai authorities.
Uighurs in north-western China speak a language related to Turkish. Many say they suffer discrimination at the hands of authorities and the dominant Han Chinese majority.