Thai police hold injured Iranian suspect after blasts

Thailand explosions

REPORTING FROM BANGKOK AND NEW DELHI -- Three explosions rattled downtown Bangkok on Tuesday, a day after bombers targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia, and police announced that at least one of the suspects in Thailand's capital is an Iranian national.

Israeli officials quickly blamed Iran for the afternoon blasts, which authorities said injured the Iranian and four Thais.

“I would like to ask the people not to panic,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said as security was stepped up throughout the Thai capital. “The authorities have now arrested an attacker.”

Thai police said an explosive device detonated in a home rented by Iranians in downtown Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road area. Two men in the house managed to escape while a third reportedly tried to flag a taxi, which refused to stop given his bloodied condition.

The man threw a grenade at the taxi, Bangkok Police Deputy Commissioner Pisit Pisutsak told reporters, injuring the driver. As police closed in, they said, the man threw another grenade at them — only to have it detonate near the attacker, seriously injuring his legs.

Police arrested the man, identified as Saci Morabi, 50, and took him to the hospital, where he faced questioning.

A manhunt followed for the other two suspects. A man thought to be one of them was subsequently arrested at Bangkok’s international airport trying to board a flight to Malaysia. He was variously identified as Mohamed Hazaei and Mohamed Hasahi, 41.

Government spokeswoman Thitima Chaiseng said the police found papers indicating the injured suspect was Iranian. “However, we do not know yet about the second and third men and are awaiting police information on that,” she added.

The Bangkok blasts followed an attack Monday on an Israeli diplomatic vehicle in New Delhi, which injured four people, and a failed attempt to blow up an Israeli vehicle in the Georgian capital of Tblisi.

On a trip to Singapore, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Bangkok incident proved “once again that Iran and its proxies are continuing to perpetrate terrorism.” He added: “The recent attacks are yet another example of this.”

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said the two days of explosions suggest the start of an Asian terror wave by Hezbollah operatives.

“Some of the operatives who’ve been inducted may not know each other, planning and striking independently,” he said. “And they use mostly what’s commercially available,” to avoid crossing borders with anything incriminating or suspicious, he added.

However, other experts were more skeptical.

“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’s own external operations wing, the Quds Force,” Will Hartley, head of the Terrorism and Insurgency Center at London's IHS Jane’s, said in a statement.

Thai authorities stressed that it was too early to say conclusively who was responsible for Tuesday’s blasts and whether they were part of a terrorist attack. “When someone wants to carry out terrorism, they do not act like this, throwing devices at cars and police,” Thitima said.

Officials in Tehran denied Monday that Iran was involved in the New Delhi blast or the attempted attack in Georgia.

Bangkok has been on alert since Atris Hussein, a Lebanese allegedly linked to Hezbollah, was arrested last month at an airport in the Thai capital. He led police to a warehouse with more than 8,800 pounds of urea fertilizer and several gallons of liquid ammonium nitrate, key bomb-making ingredients.

The U.S. Embassy and Israel issued emergency alerts at the time warning their citizens that Hezbollah planned attacks on tourist areas and Jewish centers in Bangkok.

The recent events in India, Georgia and Thailand suggest a linkage to Israel, said Michael Montesano, a research fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

“If Israel was the target, in addition to the Israeli Embassy, there are lots of targets in Thailand,” he said. “There’s a large Israeli role in tourism and Israelis are very involved in the gem business.”

Thailand, which is a popular destination for Western and Israeli tourists, attracts about 20 million visitors a year, accounting for approximately 6% of the country’s gross domestic product.

“This could threaten the income of Thailand, suggesting that it’s no longer safe,” said Pranee Thiparat, an international relations professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “And the recent U.S. Embassy notice that said we’re not safe, it adds to this.”

In India, meanwhile, police investigating Monday’s blast said the explosive device attached to a Toyota Innova by a motorcycle rider appeared to be sulfur-based, a type not generally found in India. Indian media, citing investigators, said the device appeared to be the size of a human palm, was most likely self-triggered and exploded a few seconds after it was attached to the vehicle using a magnet.

A doctor at Primus Super Specialty, the private Delhi hospital treating Tal Yehoshua Koren, an Israeli injured in Monday’s blast, said Tuesday that her condition was stable but added that she had suffered some paralysis in her left leg and damage to her lungs and liver. Her driver and two others injured in the attack reportedly were released from a hospital late Monday.

India, which depends on Tehran for much of its oil, declined to follow Israel’s lead in implicating Iran.

“We’re not pointing fingers at anyone,” said Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram. “We are friendly with Israel, like we are friendly with all other countries. All are entitled to live and work here in peace and security.”

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-- Simon Roughneen in Bangkok and Mark Magnier in New Delhi. Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem and Tanvi Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Photo: Thai bomb squad officials inspect the site of an explosion in Bangkok on Tuesday. Credit: Nicolas Asfouri / Agence France-Presse

 
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