In Thailand, Evidence Suggests Bombings Tied to Larger Plot

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Sakchai Lalit/AP

Thai Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officials examine the damage caused by a blast at the house where suspected bomber Saeid Moradi was staying in Bangkok, Thailand Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

A day after a series of blasts rocked Thailand’s capital, the country’s leaders feverishly sought to dispel any notion the incident was part of a terrorist plot. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise: police discovered materials at the Bangkok house used by three suspected bombers from Iran that points to a possible link with the teams that targeted Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia earlier this week.

Police said Wednesday that investigators recovered magnets and magnetic sheets along with C-4 and other explosive devices in the wrecked remains of the two-story wooden house in the Sukhumvit section of Bangkok where the first of three explosions occurred on Tuesday. In the attacks targeting Israeli diplomats on Monday in New Delhi and Tbilisi, bombs were attached to the officials’ vehicles with the use of magnets. The discovery is part of mounting evidence that suggests that Thailand, despite its good relations with most nations in the Middle East and little experience with international terrorist plots, may not be immune as a target or staging ground for terrorist attacks.

(MORE: See Robert Horn’s first story on the attacks)

Thai police have arrested two of the Iranian men involved in the Valentine’s Day blasts, which injured five people, including one of the bombers, but no Israelis. Police believe the first explosion at the house went off by accident, causing the three men to flee. One of the men, identified as Saeid Moradi, then threw explosive devices at a taxi that refused to pick him up and at police officers. The final bomb exploded too soon, however, and severed one of his legs. (His other leg was later amputated.) He’s now in stable condition at a Bangkok hospital, but is still unconscious. Another suspect, Mohammad Hazaei, was arrested at Bangkok’s airport on Tuesday evening while trying to board a flight to Malaysia.

Police said Wednesday that a third suspect, identified as Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, had already escaped to Malaysia, and the Bangkok Post reported that Thailand is asking Malaysia’s cooperation in arresting him. Police also named a fourth suspect on Wednesday evening — a woman name Rohani Leila. Her whereabouts were not immediately known.

(PHOTOS: Thailand’s Capital Rocked by Explosions)

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak immediately blamed the incidents on Iran, and although no Israelis were targeted in Tuesday’s blasts, the country’s ambassador to Thailand, Itzhak Shoham, told The Associated Press that the similarities between the bombs in Bangkok, New Delhi and Tbilisi led Israeli officials to “assume that there is the same network of terror.” Iran, meanwhile, is pointing the finger at Israel. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Memanparast said “elements of the Zionist regime are responsible for this crime” and they are “trying to harm the friendly and historic relations between Iran and Thailand,” Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday.

Thai officials, aware of how a series of blasts in central Bangkok could hurt tourism, sought Wednesday to play down any connection to a foreign terrorist plot. Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters at a press conference that “at this moment, there is no evidence linking this incident to terrorism.’’ His comment was echoed by Defense Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, who said “the men were trying to assemble bombs,” so the explosions should not be considered an actual terrorist attack. However, later that evening, the national police chief, Gen. Priewpan Damopong, said on a TV news talk show that “Iranians were most likely planning to target Israeli diplomats as (they did) in India and Georgia,” adding that the targets would have been vehicles, not buildings or indiscriminate killings.

The bombings follow the arrest last month of a Lebanese man suspected of being a member of the Iranian-backed militant group Hizbollah and the discovery of over four tons of explosive materials in a house he had rented in Bangkok. (Police have declined to make a link between that arrest and Tuesday’s explosions.) The latest incident certainly won’t help to calm nerves — or sell package tours to foreigners. In the aftermath of the blasts, the U.S. and ten other nations issued alerts to their citizens about traveling to Thailand.

MORE: “Attacking Israel’s Diplomats: The View from Iran.”