A foreign suspect with alleged links to Hezbollah militants yesterday led Thai police to a warehouse filled with materials commonly used to make bombs, as Thailand and the US disagreed over whether Bangkok was the target of a terror plot.
Police confiscated more than 4,000kg of urea fertilizer and several liters of liquid ammonium nitrate during the early morning raid on a warehouse in Samut Sakhon, on the western outskirts of Bangkok, police and media reports said.
The raid came after the US embassy issued an “emergency message” on Friday warning of a possible terror threat against Americans in Bangkok, and Israel sent out a similar warning to its citizens. A dozen other embassies have since urged their citizens to exercise caution.
The warnings come during heightened tension over US and Israeli responses to the prospect that Iran is moving ahead with its nuclear program.
Thai authorities were caught off-guard by the US announcement, hastily revealing they had detained a Swedish national of Lebanese origin with alleged links to pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants on Thursday and that intelligence indicated a plot could be carried out between Friday and Sunday. The defense minister said the news was not released earlier to avoid panic that could hurt Thailand’s tourism industry, one of the country’s biggest revenue earners.
Damage control continued yesterday, with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra calling for calm.
“I’d like to tell people not to panic. The situation is under control. There is no problem,” Yingluck told reporters, adding that security was increased and intelligence agencies were closely following the situation.
“We can assure the safety of the [Thai] people and foreign tourists,” she said.
Details of the alleged plot remained hazy yesterday because of a variety of conflicting accounts from Thai officials, some of whom said that Thailand appeared to have been a staging ground, but not the target of any plot.
“I think Thailand is likely a transit point for other regions of the world,” national police chief General Prewpan Dhamapong told reporters after the raid. “It is unlikely that they would have staged terror attacks in Thailand.”
The US embassy yesterday said it stood by its warning of a possible attack in Bangkok.
“Whenever we have specific, credible, not-counterable threats, it is our responsibility to inform Americans in Thailand,” US embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler said. “That’s what we did Friday. We issued an emergency message and that remains in effect.”
Police were led to the warehouse by the suspect, identified as Atris Hussein. Hussein told police that he and other accomplices had rented the warehouse a year ago, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Hussein was charged later yesterday with illegally possessing explosive materials and faces up to five years in prison.
Police were still looking for another Lebanese suspect.