Five people have been arrested over the past two days in connection with a grenade blast on a busy Phnom Penh street earlier this month, with an official telling a local news outlet that the attack was likely connected to a romantic dispute involving a Vietnamese man injured in the explosion.
At least three people were wounded on the evening of September 6 when the grenade went off on Street 163 in Chamkar Mon district. Security camera footage leaked hours later shows the grenade appear in the middle of the road as a column of motorbikes drives past, and detonate to the left of an SUV, sending up a cloud of smoke and debris.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith initially said the blast was the work of a “political group” that “intended to cause social turmoil” and claimed officials were searching for two men who passed on motorbikes seconds before the explosion.
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Wednesday told the online Fresh News service that police arrested five people on Wednesday and on Tuesday, saying the suspected motive was “a love-affair dispute with the Vietnamese victim.”
Reached by telephone, General Sopheak confirmed the arrests but refused to elaborate.
“That’s correct, but we do not have details yet,” Gen. Sopheak said. “Please wait and they will provide this information later. We will not hide information about this case.”
Gen. Sopheak then said that he had ordered Fresh News to take down the article for fear that it would affect the ongoing investigation. The story was pulled later in the afternoon.
“If we say something now, it would be like hitting the water to scare the fish away,” he said.
In Bora, director of the Interior Ministry’s internal security department, said the five suspects were being questioned at the National Police headquarters.
“We have not finished questioning them,” he said, declining to comment further.
After police announced that the blast was politically motivated, suspicions began circulating on social media that authorities would use the incident as a pretext to ramp up security ahead of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s trial on September 9, during which hundreds of opposition supporters gathered in Phnom Penh.
The brother of slain political analyst Kem Ley said last week that the government staged the explosion in order to divert attention from its seemingly stalled investigation into the murder, which took place on July 10.
Asked whether police had changed their mind about the “political group” theory, National Police spokesman Saran Komsath equivocated.
“You should know that in any case that occurs, we have to make an initial conclusion, and our conclusions may not be 100 percent accurate,” he said.