23 November 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Israel and the U.S. issued emergency warnings after a suspected Iranian bomb-maker blundered by exploding his rented safe-house and challenging police in Bangkok's streets, resulting in injuries to four civilians and accidentally blowing one of his own legs off.

Three explosions erupted in Bangkok in the afternoon on Valentine's Day, one month after Thailand arrested a Lebanese-Swedish man for allegedly stockpiling chemicals in a warehouse on the outskirts of Bangkok to create explosives.

Security forces were investigating if the two alleged bomb-making incidents were related.

"The attempted terrorist attack in Bangkok proves once again that Iran and its proxies continue to perpetrate terror," Israeli Defense Minster Ehud Barak said on Tuesday (February 14), hours after Thai police seized the bloodied bomber amid shrapnel and debris on a busy sidewalk while pedestrians gawked in horror.

Mr. Barak, who visited Bangkok on Sunday, made the comments in nearby Singapore.

Israel said Iran was also responsible for a car bombing on Monday (February 13) in New Delhi, India -- which injured a female Israeli diplomat -- and a failed attempt in Georgia.

Tehran has denied all Israeli allegations of wrongdoing.

Tuesday's violence began when a house exploded in the upscale Ekamai neighborhood near Bangkok's tourist-packed Sukhumvit Road, tearing the wood-and-cement structure's roof off and wrecking its windows.

Three suspected Iranian men fled the damaged building, leaving behind a pile of bomb-making material, Thai officials said.

One of the escaping men, whose clothes were soaked in blood from the explosion, desperately tried to commandeer a passing taxi, but was rejected on the traffic-packed street.

Distraught, he hurled a grenade-like explosive at the taxi, heavily damaging the vehicle and also lightly injured four Thais, including the driver.

When police pursued the bomber, he tossed a grenade at them but it hit a tree, bounced back and exploded, blowing his right leg off, and severely wounding his left leg, police and hospital officials said.

The powerful blast created a crater in the street where the man had been standing.

A nearby bag contained currency from Iran, the U.S. and Thailand, and his Iranian passport showed he entered this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation on Feb. 8, police said.

After taking the wounded man to a hospital, police arrested another Iranian, identified as Mohammad Hazaei, 42, at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport while he was boarding a flight south to neighboring Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Police suspect Mr. Hazaei may be linked to the injured grenade-thrower.

A third Iranian man -- possibly also injured when the house exploded -- was still on the loose, they said.

When U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director David H. Petraeus visited Bangkok on February 6, he was reportedly updated by Thai officials about a dual Lebanese-Swedish citizen who was arrested on Jan. 12.

Hussein Atris, however, said he stockpiled medical "cool packs" which "contained ammonia" for commerical export, and is not a Hezbollah member, after being arrested for possessing 10 gallons (38 liters) of ammonium nitrate which can be used to build bombs.

"I am 100 percent not guilty in the terror crimes I am accused of," Mr. Atris, 47, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

After arresting Mr. Atris, police increased security around potential Israeli targets including Bangkok's Jewish synagogues, Chabad House religious center, the Israeli embassy and elsewhere.

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Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including Hello My Big Big Honey! Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are
Asia Correspondent
Animists (Copyright 2012 Richard S Ehrlich)