Monday, January 16, 2012

PM assures public of safety Thai security agencies can combat terror

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday insisted Thailand's anti-terrorism mechanisms are functioning around the clock to ensure public security.
Police from the Metropolitan Police Division 1 check the backpacks of foreign backpackers on Khao San Road amid terrorism warnings in Bangkok issued by foreign embassies in Thailand. PATIPAT JANTHONG
She made her assurances after the US embassy issued a warning to its citizens in Thailand over possible terrorist attacks which prompted more than 10 other nations to issue similar security warnings in its wake.
The US embassy's warning came after the arrest of Atris Hussein, a Swedish-Lebanese man with suspected links to the Hezbollah militant group, by Thai police at Suvarnabhumi Airport last Thursday.
The premier said both locals and tourists should not worry. They should leave the rest to the government which would take care of their security.
"We believe we can take care of it, with police, soldiers, the National Security Council, and National Intelligence Agency deployed out there working as hard as they did during the New Year festival," Ms Yingluck told reporters before attending the cabinet meeting in Chiang Mai yesterday.
She refused to disclose more details about another terrorist suspect who is still being hunted by Thai authorities, saying she would keep the public informed as soon as clear information comes along.
As for the countries that have issued a terrorist warning in Thailand, Ms Yingluck said she had ordered the Foreign Ministry to speed up explaining the situation to them to mitigate any negative effects of such warnings on the country's tourism.
Security was tightened at the Bank of Thailand's northern office in Chiang Mai where a mobile cabinet was held yesterday.
Chotana Road in front of the meeting venue was temporarily closed to ensure security for cabinet members and bomb disposal teams were deployed to comb the area.
Mobile phone signals were also jammed intermittently.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul yesterday said 14 nations had issued warnings about possible terrorist attacks in Thailand. He denied media reports that he would request a meeting with the US ambassador to Thailand to discuss the terrorism warning.
Defence Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa echoed the PM's assurance of public security, saying Thailand's security and intelligence agencies had from time to time closely monitored the movements of suspected terrorists but there was no need to publicise every development.
In the latest case, both the US and Israel informed Thailand on Dec 18 that Mossad, Israeli's intelligence service, had information about a group of terrorists that had entered Thailand and would possibly carry out an attack here, said Gen Yutthasak.
Thai security agencies were well aware of that movement and were closely monitoring the Hezbollah militant group, but no action could be taken at the time due to a lack of evidence, he said.
At that time, Thailand, the US, and Israel had agreed to keep the matter secret because Thailand did not want it to become news for fear that media reports about it could trigger a wave of panic which would inevitably affect the country's tourism.
At the same time, Thai security authorities began discreetly stepping up security measures at certain American and Israeli communities in Bangkok such as Khao San Road.
"The situation is totally under control. The terrorist group has left," said Gen Yutthasak.
The Thai Defence Ministry has requested a meeting with a US assistant military attache to Thailand, he said, adding Thailand would encourage the US to be more "cautious" in the future.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi, meanwhile, said the ministry had begun sending information about the security situation in Thailand to the other countries through its embassies worldwide.
Mr Hussein, who is being detained by Thai police in a "safe place", has yet to be charged and the process of his deportation has yet to begin, said police spokesman Piya Uthayo.
Mr Hussein admitted to police investigators the group had been prepared to launch terrorist attacks in Bangkok, but they had to cancel the plan after his arrest.
No details were available of the terror plan, though it was thought to be a bomb attack.
Pol Maj Gen Piya said police had received no further information about the other suspect who was still at large yesterday.
The police released a sketch of the suspect to the media on Friday.
Immigration Bureau Commissioner Wiboon Bangthamai said as soon as the detained terrorist suspect is handed over to the bureau, he would be deported urgently.