Thai officials say Tuesday's Bangkok blasts were meant for Israeli diplomats

The Iranian suspects in the Bangkok blasts were planning to attack Israeli diplomats, a senior Thai intelligence official said. Earlier blasts in India and Georgia also targeted Israelis this week.

By , Staff writer

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    A Thai Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) official examines the bomb site in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Feb. 14.
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In a first since a bomb went off in Thailand and India within days of one another, Thai authorities have joined Israel and pointed to Iran. A top police official said several Iranian nationals planned to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Bangkok as tensions between Israel and Iran grow over Tehran's nuclear program.

As the Thai police announced they were searching for a fifth suspect in the botched terrorism plot in Bangkok, the statement by Thailand's top policeman was the first confirmation by local officials that the Iranians was plotting attacks in Thailand.  

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Israel has been strongly accusing Iran of being behind the plot in Thailand as well as two other attempts in India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week, while Iran has denied any involvement. 

The plot in Bangkok was discovered Tuesday only by accident, when explosives stored in a house occupied by several Iranian men blew up by mistake, according to the Associated Press.

Iran, whose leaders had threatened to retaliate for Israel's alleged car-bomb assassination of several of its nuclear scientists, denied involvement in the attacks Monday and Tuesday, including a bomb that failed to explode in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Iran blamed them on Israel, according to Reuters.

Some 14 governments have issued travel warnings to their citizens visiting Thailand, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

Thailand and Israel are both stepping up security measures, according to authorities in both countries.

Terror cells are "active" in India, a senior Israeli minister has said, underlining that the recent attack on a diplomat in New Delhi should spur the two nations to step up counter-terrorism cooperation.

"The incident (attack on an Israeli diplomat in Delhi on Monday) makes it clear that there are terrorist cells in India. They have targeted recently us but in the past they have also targeted Indian citizens and others.

What one can see here is a growing joint interest of India and Israel, who are both exposed to terror threats," Israel's Minister for Energy and Water Resources Uzi Landau said ahead of his three day trip to India next week. Landau had earlier served as public security minister.

Landau's comment came as the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had stepped up security for its diplomats posted overseas.

Based on security camera footage and information from eyewitnesses, Thailand's deputy police chief Pansiri Prapawat said on Thursday, they believe the fifth suspect was also a man of Middle-Eastern appearance. The other suspects have been identified as Iranians, one of them a woman. Two are being held in Thailand, and one has been detained in Malaysia.  

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi said the government should impose more stringent immigration controls to prevent bad guys entering Thailand.

He said the three explosions reflected increasing global tensions, but Thailand had to stand firm in saying that this is not a problem stemming from domestic affairs.

Actually, intelligence authorities were already aware of Iranians operating in Bangkok, according to Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. The incident, however, has Thailand toying with the idea of stepping up immigration measures, comparable with US measures post-Sept 11.

"Iranians have been surveying US and Israeli targets for some time now," said Mr. Panitan, a former government spokesman. "They may have been here on vacation, but they were looking for loopholes in our security."

Days before the Thailand explosion, on Feb. 13, a motorcyclist rode up alongside the car of Israeli embassy staffer Tal Yehoshua-Koren and attached a magnetic “sticky bomb” to the vehicle in an attempt to assassinate the diplomat, according to the Associated Press. The blast injured but did not kill Ms. Yehoshua-Koren. Indian investigators have so far been unwilling to place any blame on Iran, as they continue to gather clues in New Delhi, in an apparent coordination with Israelis.

 “We have no information or evidence of any country, organization, entity and individual being involved,” said Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. 

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said that an Indian delegation would still visit Iran, according to Dawn.com.

Mr. Sharma told the AFP that terrorism and trade were “separate issues,” stressing that the perpetrators behind Monday’s bomb attack had yet to be established. “I am sure that our investigating agencies will identify and bring to justice the perpetrators,” said Sharma.

Israel said Tehran was responsible for the attack, but Sharma insisted the matter had to be dealt with through the legal process.

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