- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2012

BANGKOK — Thai police were questioning a Lebanese man with alleged links to Hezbollah militants as the U.S. Embassy and Israel warned Friday of a “real and credible” terrorist threat against Americans and Israelis in Bangkok. Police said a bombing had been planned and another suspect was at large.

The warning comes during heightened tension over U.S. and Israeli responses to the prospect that Iran is going forward with developing nuclear weapons. Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which has been accused of carrying out terrorist attacks in the Middle East since the 1980s, is avowedly anti-Israel and widely considered to act as a proxy for Iran.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said Thai authorities received a tip-off before New Year’s of a planned attack, which was said to target Israelis.

“At first we were told the Palestinians were behind it but it turned out to be the Hezbollah,” he told The Associated Press. In other interviews, he said Israel had provided the warning.

Chalerm said police detained a Lebanese suspect with alleged links to Hezbollah on Thursday.

Thai authorities had been “following two Lebanese men and called in one of them … for questioning,” Chalerm said. “Technically the two men have not committed any crimes under the Thai law, so we could only use the immigration law to keep this one suspect in custody,” he said.

At a late-night news conference, police later released a sketch of the second man, said to still be at large.

Metropolitan Police spokesman Piya Utayo said the description came from the man being questioned, who was being held at “a safe location.” The man, whose name was not given, was alleged to have told police the pair arrived before New Year’s and planning a bombing.

Piya said the missing suspect was still in Thailand, and urged people to be on the watch for him, especially in the Bangkok tourist neighborhoods of Khao San Road and Sukhumvit Road’s Soi 22. He said special police units were sent to those areas to search for the man, who was described as the senior of the two.

Chalerm spoke hours after the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok sent an “emergency message” to American citizens.

The message said that “foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.” It urged Americans to “keep a low profile” in public and to exercise caution in areas where Western tourists gather.

The statement gave no other details.

Ambassador Kristie Kenney told the AP the threat was “real and very credible.” She didn’t give any other information.

It was the first U.S. warning of a foreign terror attack in Bangkok in recent memory.

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