Israeli vehicles attacked in New Delhi, Tblisi; 4 hurt in bombing

 

A Israeli diplomat's car exploded in New Delhi, injuring the wife of an embassy staff member and at least three other people, in what appeared to be a coordinated, two-pronged terror attack against Israeli missions in India and Georgia

This story has been updated. See the note below for details.

REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI AND JERUSALEM -- A Israeli diplomat's car exploded near the Indian prime minister's residence in New Delhi on Monday, injuring the wife of an embassy staff member and at least three other people, in what appeared to be a coordinated, two-pronged terror attack against Israeli missions in India and Georgia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed the strikes on Iran and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, raising concerns in the Mideast about a more overt confrontation by regional powers.

"Iran is behind these attacks," Netanyahu said. "It is the biggest exporter of terror in the world. ... We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran."

Iranian officials had no immediate reaction.

[Updated, 8:41 a.m. Feb. 13: Later, the Associated Press reported that Iran's ambassador to India rejected Netanyahu's accusation as "lies."

"We condemn any terrorist attack and strongly reject unrealistic charges by an official of the Zionist regime," said Mahdi Nabizadeh, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency, characterizing Israel as Iranian officials often do.]

Amateur video from the scene showed a Toyota Innova with Israeli diplomatic license plates consumed by flames, its headlights still on and black smoke pouring from the wrecked vehicle. The blast also ignited a red car behind the silver Innova, slightly injuring two people.

A witness who asked not to be identified said he saw a woman in the Innova blown across the street by the blast as the car waited at a stoplight. She was badly hurt, he said, and was taken away by embassy staff.

Israeli radio identified the injured woman as Tal Yehoshua Koren, wife of a security official.

About the same time, a messenger for the Israeli Embassy in the Georgian capital of Tblisi notified security officials after noticing something suspicious under a car, Israeli officials said. A bomb was found and safely defused with no injuries, officials said.

After the attacks, the Israeli Foreign Ministry instructed all diplomats and embassy personnel to refrain from driving their cars until they have been inspected by security personnel.

In the India incident, B.K. Gupta, Delhi police commissioner, said witnesses told authorities that a device was planted on the Innova by a man on a motorcycle. The diplomat's wife is at a private hospital, where her condition is listed as stable, he said, adding that she had gone to pick up her children from school. The driver of the Innova was also reportedly injured.

"India condemns such incidents," said Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna. "The investigation has started. We will keep Israel posted."

Israel and India have maintained diplomatic ties for the last 20 years. They have close relations and often share intelligence, given that both face Islamic fundamentalism on their borders. The two are discussing a free-trade agreement.

"There was one attempted attack, and one successful, as it were," said Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "In both cases, the people concerned worked with the Israeli embassies."

Hirschson confirmed that the bomb in Georgia was also found in a car belonging to an embassy staff member.

Israeli officials said they had thwarted similar would-be attacks in recent weeks in Azerbaijan and Thailand.

In recent days, Israel has reportedly stepped up its alert level at foreign missions and other prominent sites worldwide in advance of Feb. 12, the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the mastermind of the Iranian-backed and Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas. The group has vowed to avenge the death of Mughniyeh in a Damascus car-bombing, which it blamed on Israel.

Israelis have also braced for possible revenge attacks following the assassinations of several officials and scientists involved in Iran's controversial nuclear program, including the killing last month of a director of Iran's main uranium enrichment site in a blast from a magnetic bomb placed on his car.

No one has taken responsibility for the Iran killings, although Tehran has blamed Israel and the United States.

If Iran is involved in Monday's attacks, it could put India in a difficult position, given that it has defied U.S. and European pressure to cut ties with Tehran. Indian officials argue that their nation's economy would be seriously hampered without Iranian oil. India has recently said it could finance its energy purchases with rupees and gold if Washington makes trade in dollars prohibitive.

India has been repeatedly criticized at home and abroad for its lax security. In the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a rabbi, his wife and four others were killed at Nariman House, the Mumbai headquarters of the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Jews.

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-- Mark Magnier in New Delhi and Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem. Tanvi Sharma in The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed.

Photo: Indian officials examine the scene after an explosion in New Delhi on Monday tore through a car belonging to an Israeli diplomat. Credit: Saurabh Das / Associated Press

Iranian officials had no immediate reaction.

Israeli intelligence officials warned earlier this month that it feared its foreign missions might come under attack due to the increased speculation that Israel might launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities to cripple what the U.S. and others believe is a covert campaign to develop a nuclear bomb.

In addition, Iran has blamed Israel for many of the nearly dozen assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and mysterious explosions at nuclear facilities in Iran during the past year.

Israeli officials said they had thwarted similar would-be attacks in recent weeks in Azerbaijan and Thailand.

Monday’s synchronized attacks came on the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh. The militant group blamed Israel for Mughniyeh’s killing and had repeatedly vowed to retaliate.

 
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