India issues arrest warrants for 3 Iranians in Israeli bombing

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REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- India has issued arrest warrants for three Iranian suspects who reportedly fled the country shortly after last month’s bomb attack on an Israeli diplomatic vehicle and it is seeking Interpol's assistance to apprehend them, officials said Friday.

They said the investigation had not reached any conclusion on who was responsible for the attack.

On Feb. 13, a motorcyclist attached a bomb to a Toyota Innova registered to the Israeli Embassy before speeding off. The blast injured Tal Yehoshua, the wife of an Israeli diplomat, along with her driver and two people in an adjacent vehicle.

Police identified the suspects as Houshang Afshar Irani, Seyed Ali Sadr Mehdian and Mohammad Reza, all carrying Iranian passports. The men reportedly arrived in Delhi two weeks before the attack and fled soon after the bombing.

Friday’s disclosures follow the announcement last week that Indian national Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi, 50, a journalist with an Iranian news agency, had been arrested on suspicion of assisting the Iranians.

On the same day as the New Delhi blast, a similar attack was foiled on an Israeli diplomat’s car in the nation of Georgia. The next day an explosion damaged a rented house in Thailand occupied by three Iranians and apparently being used as a bomb factory.

Israel has blamed Iran for the New Delhi attack, but Tehran has denied any involvement. India, which relies on Iran for about 12% of its oil, has been slow to point fingers, although Delhi Police Commissioner Brijesh Gupta on Friday said the blasts in India and Thailand have now been linked.

Delhi police gave the following account of the attack:

Kazmi traveled twice last year to Iran at Mehdian’s request, where he also met Reza, agreed to assist the Iranians and received $5,500.

The Iranians then instructed Kazmi to help Irani when he traveled to Delhi, which he did. In India, the pair discussed plans to carry out the attack, reconnoitering near the Israeli Embassy and a nearby area on a motor scooter that Irani purchased. After he left, Kazmi kept the motorcycle at his house.

Mehdian and Reza also traveled to India for reconnaissance of the embassy with a particular focus on the routes commonly used by Israeli diplomats. This was done in Kazmi’s vehicle, a Maruti Alto.

Police say they have linked Kazmi to the Iranians through phone records and his booking of Mehdian’s return ticket.

In addition to the Maruti and the motor scooter, police said they have recovered $1,250 at Kazmi’s house, a laptop computer and an Iranian mobile telephone card. The investigation has revealed that Kazmi received $48,000 in foreign remittances for which there is no satisfactory explanation and that Irani was in touch with one of the three suspects arrested in the Bangkok explosions, suggesting the operations were coordinated.

“We have informed the Iranian ambassador of these developments, so as to seek the cooperation of the Iranian authorities in bringing those involved in this dastardly attack to justice,” said Syed Akbaruddin, chief spokesman with the Foreign Ministry.

India has come under American pressure to stop buying oil from Iran, a move it has resisted. Under U.S. law, countries that don’t make a “significant” reduction in their Iranian crude oil usage during the first half of 2012 are subject to sanctions, although Obama administration officials have also said they want to avoid hurting allies.

In a sign of the growing U.S. pressure India feels on this issue, the Indian Embassy in Washington earlier this month released a statement accusing American media of distorting its energy profile and foreign policy objectives.

While Indian imports of Iranian oil increased in January, the embassy said, the overall share is declining. India has consistently called on Iran to comply with international nuclear safeguards, it added. At the same time, India needs energy to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of its citizens, enjoys cultural ties with Iran and sees Iran as its gateway to Afghanistan.

“Given the imperative of meeting the energy needs of millions of Indians, an automatic replacement of all Iranian oil imports is not ... a realistic option,” it added.

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Photo: Police officers examine an Israeli diplomat's car soon after it was damaged in an explosion in New Delhi last month that saw the wife of an Israeli diplomat and three others injured by attackers using magnetic bombs. Credit: Mustafa Quraishi / Associated Press.

 
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