Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand said it arrested a Lebanese terror suspect less than three hours after the U.S. warned of a possible attack in Bangkok and urged citizens to exercise caution in public areas.
Thai police arrested a suspect linked to Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung told reporters. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra confirmed that police had made an arrest.
“The situation is normal,” Police Chief Priewpan Damapong told reporters. “There is nothing to worry about.”
The U.S. warned today in an “emergency message” that “foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.” U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney said on Twitter the threat is “Bangkok specific” and “credible.”
Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally that sent troops to Iraq in 2003, depends on tourism for about 7 percent of gross domestic product, according to the government. The benchmark SET Index fell 0.7 percent, the most in a month, after the U.S. warning.
Minor International Pcl, Thailand’s biggest hotel operator, dropped 3.4 percent, the most in seven weeks, Dusit Thani Pcl slumped 4 percent and Shangri-la Hotel Bangkok Pcl fell 3.1 percent. Thailand had about 19 million tourist visits last year, according to official statistics.
INN News cited Chalerm as saying two suspects were arrested. The threat is probably related to U.S. moves to sanction Iran over its nuclear weapons program, according to Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based analyst at IHS Jane’s.
The U.S. is “looking at pro-Iranian groups that might possibly react to what may very well go down in the Straits of Hormuz and possibly beyond,” Davis said. “It seems unlikely that terrorist attacks would be launched before the situation in the Middle East has escalated significantly.”
Tensions over the ratcheting up of sanctions led Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to threaten on Dec. 27 that Iran may block the Strait of Hormuz, the transit for about a fifth of the world’s oil, if the European Union bans exports from the Islamic Republic.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner visited China and Japan this week to build support for tighter Iranian economic sanctions after international monitors detected an acceleration in the nation’s nuclear development program. Ally Japan pledged to reduce Iran oil imports after China rejected a similar move.
Hambali, the suspected leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia and Jemaah Islamiyah’s operations chief who also goes by the name Riduan Isamuddin, was captured in Thailand in 2003 and is now in U.S. custody.
--With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bangkok. Editors: Tony Jordan, Jake Lloyd-Smith
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