Bloomberg News

Thailand Searches for Two Suspects After Iranians Arrested

February 15, 2012

(Updates with Israeli cabinet meeting in fifth paragraph, comments from Netanyahu and Liberman starting in sixth.)

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Police in Thailand investigating yesterday’s bomb blasts in Bangkok arrested two Iranians and were searching for two additional suspects as Iran rejected allegations by Israel that it sponsored that attack, as well as others around the globe.

Two men with Iranian passports are in custody and evidence shows that they aimed to target individuals, rather than groups, according to Wichien Potephosree, secretary-general of the Thai National Security Council. The suspects planned to assassinate Israeli diplomats, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a Thai intelligence official it didn’t identify.

“The problems of international politics have affected us as well as other countries,” Wichien told reporters in Bangkok today, adding that authorities have yet to link the suspects to any organization. “Thailand is a soft spot because we welcome foreigners to promote our tourism and economy.”

Yesterday’s explosions followed the Feb. 13 car-bomb attacks on Israeli diplomats in the capitals of India and Georgia that Israel has blamed on Iranian-backed terrorism. Israeli leaders have said that time is running out for sanctions to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel hasn’t ruled out a military strike on Iran, while the U.S. and Europe have tightened sanctions.

Cabinet Meeting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet convened today to discuss the attacks and hear Foreign Ministry and security officials’ assessments of the situation, Netanyahu’s office said in an e-mailed statement.

Before the meeting, Netanyahu told the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that unless Iran is stopped, attacks against Israel will spread to other countries.

“Israel’s security apparatus will know how to fight the Iranian threat,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said today, according to an e-mailed statement from his office.

Iran dismissed Israel’s accusations today, calling them “baseless,” the state-run Mehr news agency reported, citing Ramin Mehmanparast, a foreign ministry spokesman.

“Efforts by Israel to harm the friendly relations between Thailand and Iran will bear no results,” Mehr quoted him as saying. Israel’s “coordinated baseless accusations of our country having a hand in blasts in India and Georgia and Bangkok shows the plot and the setting up of a suspicious scenario.”

A third suspect in the Bangkok blasts has fled to Malaysia, according to Thailand’s deputy national police chief, Pansiri Prapawat. Thai authorities have tightened security at immigration checkpoints and “important places,” and have asked neighboring countries for assistance, Wichien said.

U.S. Warning

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok warned on Jan. 13 that “foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks” on tourist areas in Bangkok. Three days later Thai police charged a Swedish-Lebanese man they said was linked to Hezbollah with possessing illegal substances after detaining him in connection with a plan to attack sites frequented by Americans and Israelis.

The U.S. and the U.K. warned citizens traveling in Thailand to remain vigilant after yesterday’s attacks. The explosives used in the blasts contained magnets and were designed to target individuals, Police Chief Priewphan Damaphong told reporters today.

Stocks Gain

Thailand’s SET Index gained 1.9 percent as of 3:06 p.m. local time, mirroring gains across the region. The baht was little changed.

Reports that the alleged perpetrator of the Bangkok blasts possessed an Iranian passport may lend credence to Israeli allegations that Iran is waging an international campaign, Will Hartley, head of the Terrorism & Insurgency Centre at defense researcher IHS Jane’s, said in an e-mail.

“However, the attacks in India, Georgia and now Thailand have all been highly amateurish, and lack the sophistication that would normally be expected from an operation executed by either” Hezbollah or Iran, Hartley said.

--With assistance from Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok, Ladane Nasseri in Tehran and Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem. Editors: Patrick Harrington, John Brinsley

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at suttinee1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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