Former MPs with significant influence in the South might have been involved in the recent vehicle-bomb blast at Central Festival Samui shopping mall in the southern province of Surat Thani, two senior police chiefs said yesterday.
"We are confident that these politicians supported the bomb attack," deputy national police commissioner General Chakthip Chaijinda said yesterday.
He said it was suspicious that former South-based MPs had visited Surat Thani a week before the car bomb exploded at the shopping mall last Friday night, injuring many people.
"These politicians still have influence in the area," he added.
Chakthip said the bombers also clearly had links with the ongoing unrest in the deep South, given that the vehicle used for the bomb attack was stolen from Yala, one of the southernmost provinces.
He made these remarks following police questioning of more than 20 witnesses over the past five days.
"Of these witnesses, three have now been placed under military protection, police having established that they have kept contact with those involved in the deep South's unrest. So, we believe they may know something about the vehicle bomb at Central Festival Samui," he explained.
Police are now trying to locate a former security guard at the shopping mall who quit his job just before the blast, he added.
Chakthip also disclosed that recordings from security cameras showed a white Mitsubishi Triton pickup scouting the route for the Mazda pickup that was later to be used as the vehicle bomb.
"Clearly, these two vehicles headed up from the southern border provinces together. They moved in tandem along the seaside route from Yala to Songkhla, onward to Nakhon Si Thammarat, and then to Samui," he said.
"Between three and six suspects took part in the vehicle-bomb operation," he said, adding, "And one or more of them must have been female, so as to make officials feel the group was harmless."
National police commissioner General Somyot Poompanmoung, meanwhile, also said available evidence suggested that several former MPs in the South had given support and help to the vehicle-bomb instigators.
"We are handling the case in line with the evidence," he said.
Thaworn Senneam, a former deputy leader of the Democrat Party and co-leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), suggested that three politicians were behind the bombing incident.
"They have lost their [vested] interests, and they are anti-National Council for Peace and Order [the military junta]," he said.
He expressed confidence that the authorities would be able to nail down the culprits by the end of the month.
Thaworn said that with Somyot stepping in to take charge of the case, it should be possible to bring the mastermind to justice, too.
Following the bomb blast, Phra Suthep Prapakaro - former PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban - said "the man living abroad" was behind the incident, a comment that has attracted criticism from pro-Thaksin Shinawatra politicians.
Thaksin, a former prime minister, has been living overseas for years. He was ousted by a previous military coup in 2006.
Last year, the National Council for Peace and Order staged another coup, which removed the government formed by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, at the height of a political crisis.
At the time, the PDRC staged massive rallies against her government.
Pracha Prasopdee, a former deputy interior minister, yesterday said that as a monk, Phra Suthep should refrain from making any provocative comments.
"Don't speak in a way that will trigger a new round of conflict," he said, adding that all Thais were simply looking forward to peace and a general election.
Pheu Thai deputy spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard yesterday lashed out at Phra Suthep's speculation, saying that if the monk who is a former MP from Surat Thani knew who the mastermind was, he should tell the police or bring them to justice.
As a Buddhist monk, Phra Suthep should refrain from lying, as speaking an untruth was a sin under Buddhism, he said.
Deputy Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday that evidence accumulated by the police would soon lead to the mastermind, but he did not pinpoint any individual or group of politicians.