Saturday, January 14, 2012

US, Israel issue severe terror alert Lebanese man held at Suvarnabhumi airport

The United States and Israel have issued a warning of possible severe terrorist attacks in Bangkok after Thai authorities arrested a Lebanese suspect.
Police detained the man with suspected links to the Hizbollah militant group, which is backed by Iran, at Suvarnabhumi airport Friday evening as he attempted to leave the kingdom, said Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who oversees national security.

Mr Chalerm said police have control of the the situation and urged the public not to panic. The situation was not as severe as initially feared, he added.

The authorities had received information about the terror suspect before the US issued the warning.

The US embassy said in a message posted on its website Friday that foreign terrorists may be in the process of looking to launch attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.

US ambassador Kristie Kenney on Friday afternoon tweeted that "the info is specific and credible, concerns foreign terrorists and tourist areas in BKK."

US citizens are urged to exercise caution when visiting public areas where large groups of Western tourists gather in Bangkok, the embassy added.

They are also encouraged to keep a low profile in public areas, particularly those frequented by foreign tourists, it said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had previously received information from the US regarding a terror threat and assigned Mr Chalerm and national police chief Priewpan Damapong to the case.

She also put the Royal Thai Police and National Intelligence Agency on high alert and ordered them to report to her around the clock.

Ms Yingluck confirmed a suspect had been arrested but she refused to disclose any further information about the capture.

"The arrest has been made but it is best to wait until things are clearer to announce more details," the prime minister said.

Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong said the situation has now been brought under control.

He said officers are now investigating the incident and they will give more details shortly.

Gen Priewpan said that police received intelligence about a possible terrorist threat late last year and have since been on alert.

A highly placed source at the Immigration Bureau said the US embassy told Thai authorities before Christmas that it had been informed by the Israeli embassy a group of suspected militants would launch attacks in Thailand, with Western and American people as their targets.

An investigation by the Metropolitan Police Bureau and the Special Branch Bureau found that a militant group travelled from Lebanon and stayed near Khao San Road.

They held two passports - Lebanese and Swedish. However, they managed to escape when police raided their room, although one of them was eventually arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa Friday said security agencies had monitored the movements of terrorist suspects belonging to Hizbollah in Lebanon.

He said the suspects may plot car bomb attacks against important locations such as the Israeli embassy, Israeli churches, tour companies and restaurants visited by Israelis.

Gen Yutthasak said the terrorist threat in Thailand may also be linked with strained US ties with Iran. He said vulnerable locations, where both US and Israeli tourists congregate, have now been issued with alerts.

He added the government was concerned that the news of possible terrorist attacks could throw the public into a panic and would hurt tourism.

A security source said officers from the police and military have now been deployed at key locations including Suvarnabhumi and Khao San Road.

An Israeli intelligence unit reportedly told Thai authorities on Dec 22 that at least three terrorist suspects would arrive in Thailand to plot attacks. However, the suspects went to the southern provinces before leaving the country.

On Jan 8, the intelligence unit warned Thai authorities again that terrorist suspects would plan attacks in Thailand this weekend with tourist spots as their prime targets.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said the ministry also had information about the possible terrorist threat for some time.

The ministry has worked closely with security agencies and other countries to step up security measures to prevent any possible contingencies and to provide protection for diplomats and international organisations based in Thailand.

Metropolitan Police Bureau chief Winai Thongsong had ordered officers to secure places tourists gather over Christmas and the New Year and security remains tight in these areas.

Tharit Pengdit, director-general of the Department of Special Investigation, said the agency's national security case bureau and a detective centre is monitoring people suspected of fomenting violence in Thailand.