Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Iran trio 'targeted Israel envoys'

A Thai security guards inspect a car entering a building which houses the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok (AP)

Three Iranians detained after accidentally setting off explosives in Bangkok were planning to attack Israeli diplomats, Thailand's top policeman says. It was the first confirmation by local officials that the group was plotting attacks in Thailand.

The allegation came after days of accusations by Israel that Iran was behind the botched plot as well as two others in India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week. Iran has denied the charges.

Citing the similarity of bombs used in New Delhi and Tbilisi, national police chief Gen Prewpan Dhamapong said that Thai authorities now "know for certain that (the target) was Israeli diplomats". "This issue was about individuals and the targets were specific," he said. "This was something personal."

Israel has accused Iran of waging a covert campaign of state terror and has threatened military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran has blamed the Jewish state for the recent killings of Iranian atomic scientists and has denied responsibility for all three bomb plots, including an explosion on Monday in New Delhi that tore through an Israeli diplomatic vehicle, wounding the driver and a diplomat's wife, and a foiled attempt the same day in Georgia. Israel's Foreign Ministry said it has stepped up security for diplomats posted overseas.

The plot in Bangkok was discovered on Tuesday only by accident, when explosives stored in a house occupied by several Iranian men blew up by mistake. One of the Iranians, Mohammad Kharzei, was paraded before journalists today wearing a striped short-sleeve shirt, his apparently handcuffed hands covered by a dark sheet.

Prewpan said Kharzei had "partially confessed" and had acknowledged knowing one of the other suspects, Saeid Moradi, whose leg was sheered off by an explosive he was carrying as he fled police in the Thai capital's busy Sukhumvit Road area. Surveillance video released by police already links the suspects.

Kharzei, grim-faced, did not speak as he stood before reporters, but Prewpan described him as "stressed out" and another official said he was having trouble eating. The third Iranian, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, was detained in Malaysia and police said he was being investigated for terrorism-related activities linked to the Bangkok blasts.

A Bangkok court has approved arrest warrants for all three suspects, as well as an Iranian woman named Leila Rohani who rented the destroyed house. However, Rohani has left Thailand and is now in Tehran, according to the top immigration police official, Lt Gen Wiboon Bangthamai.

All four now face criminal charges including possession of explosives, attempted murder, attempted murder of a policeman and causing explosions that damaged property. Prewpan said he believed there already was enough evidence to prosecute them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the violence. "If this aggression isn't halted, ultimately it will spread to many other countries," Netanyahu said in Israel's parliament. He convened his Security Cabinet to discuss terrorism against Israel and "Iran's involvement in repeated attempts to attack Israeli targets," his office said. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the allegations baseless.

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