Thai police charged a Swedish- Lebanese man suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in Bangkok after finding bomb-making materials in a building on the capital’s outskirts.
Atris Hussein, 47, was charged with possessing illegal substances after being detained on Jan. 12 in connection with a plan to attack tourist sites frequented by Americans and Israelis, said Charamporn Suramanee, the assistant police chief. Thai police have linked him and a second suspect still on the run to the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement.
“We are monitoring the situation and have increased forces to look after public areas,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters today. “The situation is under control. There is no problem.”
The arrest followed a Jan. 13 warning from the U.S. Embassy that “foreign terrorists” aimed to attack tourists areas in Bangkok. Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said he was “disappointed” the U.S. released the warning without advising him first, because it would hurt tourism.
Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally that sent troops to Iraq in 2003, depends on tourism for about 7 percent of gross domestic product, according to the government. Thailand’s SET Index (SET) fell 0.7 percent as of 11:37 a.m. local time, declining for a second day. The baht dropped 0.4 percent to 31.91 per dollar, the weakest level in five months.
About 200 policeman surrounded a building in Samut Sakorn province on Bangkok’s outskirts today and found fertilizer and ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound used in explosives, Charamporn said. Police spokesman Piya Uthayo yesterday said a second suspect was being sought.
The U.S. said in a Jan. 13 “emergency message” to citizens that “foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.” Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler today said the warning remains in effect.
Police Chief Priewphan Damaphong told reporters that he believed Thailand was not the intended target of the attackers. Two days ago, he named the tourist area of Khao San Road and the downtown street Sukhumvit 22 as potential targets.
The suspects may have planned to use a car bomb at the Israeli Embassy, Jewish places of worship, tourist companies or restaurants, Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha told reporters on Jan. 13.
Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997. It is among terrorist groups supported by Iran, according to the U.S. State Department.
The threat may stem from U.S. steps aimed at sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program, according to Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based analyst at defense researcher IHS Jane’s.
Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi threatened on Dec. 27 to block the waterway, a transit point for shipping about a fifth of the world’s oil, if the European Union imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s crude exports.
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