Botched Thai terror plot tied to Iran?
BANGKOK — It began when three men blew up their house accidentally on Valentine’s Day in Bangkok. It ended with a gory scene that looked more like Baghdad: A bloodied, would-be bomber with severed legs moaning on a glass-strewn sidewalk after another botched blast.
Last week’s explosions in the Thai capital announced the apparent arrival of international terrorists in this Southeast Asian nation, revealing a suspected plot aimed against Israeli diplomats. Big questions remain about who was behind the plot, and why.
So far, three Iranian citizens have been detained in the case, though police say they have not revealed anything substantial under interrogation.
A Thai court issued an arrest warrant for an additional Iranian suspect this week, and on Tuesday, police were investigating the discovery of stickers plastered on Bangkok utility poles and billboards that may have marked routes for intended victims.
“There are many theories,” government spokeswoman Thitima Chaisaeng said shortly after the Bangkok blasts.
Was it part of a covert tit-for-tat war with Iranians hitting back at Israel for their purported role in the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran? Were the assailants part of a global terrorism network? If they were professional assassins, why were they so inept?
The explosions Feb. 14 came one day after two other incidents in India and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, in which bombers tried to hit Israeli targets with so-called “sticky” bombs that attach magnetically to vehicles.
The suspicions that Iran is to blame “has undoubtedly exacerbated the already mounting tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and international efforts to curtail it,” said Will Hartley, head of the Terrorism & Insurgency Center at IHS Jane’s in London.
Iran has denied responsibility. Thai investigators, meanwhile, have been left to pick up the pieces and solve the riddle of what happened on Thai soil.
Police say a 31-year-old Iranian named Leila Rohani, who visited Thailand four times over the last year, paved the way for the operation by renting a two-story house in the Thai capital.
Ms. Rohani left Thailand on Feb. 5, and the three now-detained Iranians arrived several days later, each traveling on a 60-day tourist visa. They met in Pattaya, a beach town on the Gulf of Thailand known for its go-go bars.
The suspects included Mohammad Kharzei, 42; Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, 31; and Saeid Moradi, 28. Immigration police say that all three had visited Thailand before.
In Pattaya, the men checked into separate rooms at two different hotels and appeared to relax. For a couple of days, they hung out with several prostitutes, said Lt. Col. Noppon Kuldiloke, a senior immigration police investigator in southern Thailand.
A snapshot of the group during this period emerged last week. Published on the front page of the Bangkok Post after the explosions, a cellphone image taken by one of the prostitutes showed the Iranians at a Middle Eastern-themed restaurant.