Police investigate who ‘assassins’ were trying to kill as Israel and Iran trade accusations and Ahmadinejad raises nuclear stakes
The three “Bangkok bombers” suspected of trying to mount an attack in Thailand’s capital are more likely to be assassins than terrorists, a senior Thai security official has said. This could corroborate Israel’s claims that the three men were planning an assassination similar to earlier attacks on Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia.
“The exact target we are still investigating, but we are looking at ‘who’ the target was rather than a general terrorist attack on ‘a big city’ or ‘crowds of people,’ ” the official said. “If it is an assassination attempt, it could be the armed services, drug lords or diplomats. We have to figure out who they were trying to assassinate.”
Speculation about retaliation for alleged Israeli killings of Iranian nuclear scientists came as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced that the Islamic republic had built “faster” uranium enrichment centrifuges and loaded “domestically made” fuel plates into a reactor.
Israel, which has an undeclared nuclear arsenal, has warned that it will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran and is suspected of running covert operations, with western countries, to sabotage Iran’s programme.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, again lashed out at Tehran. “Iran’s terror operations are now exposed for all to see,” he told parliament in Jerusalem. “Iran is undermining the world’s stability and harms innocent diplomats.”
In Bangkok, the Thai official said the nationalities of the suspects had yet to be confirmed. “They have Iranian passports and documents but we haven’t concluded that they are in fact Iranian,” he said.
A fourth suspect was added to the case late on Wednesday after a court approved warrants for the arrests of four people travelling as Iranian nationals, the Bangkok Post reported. They were the alleged bomber Saeid Moradi, 28, Mohummad Hazaei, 42, Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh, 31, and Rohani Leila, 32, said to have rented the house where a cache of explosives was found. Her whereabouts are unknown.
Zadeh was detained in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday while trying to board a flight to Tehran, the Nation reported.
Moradi, who lost both legs in the last Bangkok explosion, is said to have flown to Thailand from South Korea and spent five nights in a hotel, where he was joined by a friend who had a large bag. The two men hardly left the room. “Mr Moradi was good-looking and dressed neatly as if he was a young entrepreneur,” one employee told reporters. “He was also polite. I can’t believe he would be a bomber.”
The DIY explosives found in a Bangkok house after a series of blasts on Tuesday were similar to devices used against Israeli embassy targets in India and Georgia, Israel’s ambassador said on Wednesday. But the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, dismissed the allegations as baseless and said Israel was attempting to sabotage Tehran’s relations with Thailand.
Five people, including the alleged bomber, were injured in three explosions in Bangkok’s bustling Ekkamai neighbourhood. The first explosion occurred at a house rented by three Iranian nationals who, according to police, fled after explosives accidentally detonated. Two men fled while a third, wounded and disorientated from the blast, attempted to hail a taxi before throwing a grenade at the car and another at police. He missed his target and the grenade detonated in front of him, blowing off one leg and requiring the amputation of the other.
Inside the house, Thai police found two magnetic bombs that could be attached to vehicles and resembling those used in attacks against Israeli embassy targets, said Israel’s ambassador Itzhak Shoham.
“They are similar to ones used in Delhi and in Tbilisi,” Shoham told the Associated Press. “From that we can assume that there is the same network of terror.”
Despite raising the stakes with the west by announcing advances in its nuclear programme, Iran was reported to have written to the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressing readiness for fresh talks with world powers, including the US, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain.
Earlier on Wednesday, state-run Press TV reported that Iran had ceased oil exports to six countries – the Netherlands, Greece, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy – which had agreed to stop importing Iranian crude from 1 July under EU sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme. The report was later denied by Tehran.
Additional reporting by Ian Black and Harriet Sherwood, Jerusalem
from Kate Hodal, Saeed Kamali Dehghan