Israel mission staff were targets: Thai cops

Three held so far,fourth suspect missing; officials say bombs similar to those in Delhi

Written by New York Times | Bangkok | Published:February 16, 2012 12:48 am

THOMAS FULLER

Thai authorities said on Wednesday that the group of Iranians detained after an explosion tore the roof off their rented house was on a mission here targeting Israeli diplomats.

“This much I can tell you — the target of the operation was specifically the Israeli diplomatic staff,” Gen. Prewpan Dhamapong,Thailand’s chief of police,said in a television interview.

Two Iranian suspects remained in custody in Bangkok on Wednesday,including one man who lost both legs after detonating a bomb when confronted by police on Tuesday. A third Iranian suspect who fled to Kuala Lumpur,the Malaysian capital,was arrested on Wednesday by Malaysian police,who said they were holding him on the request of the Thai authorities. A fourth suspect,a female,left the country on February 5,police said.

Explosive devices discovered by police in the group’s rented house were similar to those used earlier this week against Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia,according to Prewpan and Israel’s ambassador to Thailand. “It’s almost the same system that was used in Delhi and in Tblisi,which leads us to think that they are connected,” Itzhak Shoham,Israel’s ambassador to Thailand,said in a telephone interview.

Iranian officials immediately rejected the accusation. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman,Ramin Mehmanparast,called the accusation of Iran’s involvement “baseless” and accused Israel of trying to damage its relations with Thailand.

The Israeli authorities said the discovery of explosives in Bangkok fits a pattern of Iranian-backed attacks on Israeli targets. Shoham said he believed Bangkok had been chosen because it was a “soft target.” “It’s easy to come in and out,to rent a house,” he said. “Nobody pays attention to people coming and going.”

Shoham too said the devices seized in Bangkok contained the same type of explosive as those in New Delhi and Tblisi,the Georgian capital,and were similarly outfitted with magnets that would allow them to be attached to metal objects. Some Thai officials said Wednesday it was too early to confirm links between the Bangkok explosions and the incidents in India and Georgia. But Prewpan,the police chief,said the devices found in Bangkok were the “same” as those in India and Georgia.

Prewpan spoke after interrogating one of the suspects who was detained on Tuesday at Bangkok’s international airport as he tried to leave the country. The man had shrapnel wounds from the explosion in the house,Prewpan said.

Wichean Potephosree,head of Thailand’s national security council,described the tourism industry as a “weakness.” Chalerm Ubamrung,Thailand’s deputy prime minister,said the government would tighten immigration procedures. The tourism ministry said Wednesday it would suspend issuing visas on arrival to Iranian citizens.

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