31 March 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Police hunted on Friday (Feb. 17) for a fifth alleged terrorist who may have taught three arrested Iranians how to bomb Israeli diplomats in Bangkok, and released a photo showing the trio celebrating with Thai girls at a sleazy beach resort before bungling their plot.



"The additional suspect is a 52-year-old Iranian man, Nikkhahfard Javad, who was seen leaving the house hours before the blast," said Bangkok Metropolitan Police Deputy Commander Anuchai Lekbumrung on Friday (Feb. 17), referring to the Iranians' bomb-packed house which exploded on Tuesday (Feb. 14), apparently unintentionally.



Thai media said police suspected Mr. Javad was a bomb-making instructor, who allegedly helped the three younger Iranian men build so-called "magnet bombs" with C-4 explosives which could be stuck on the exterior of vehicles belonging to Israeli embassy personnel in Bangkok, but the plot failed.



A photograph published on Friday (Feb. 17) identified Mr. Javad as a stocky, graying, slightly balding man with a moustache and close-cropped beard arriving at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.



He was standing at the airport's desk where arriving passengers' passports are stamped, and was facing toward a mounted digital camera which photographs all incoming people.



A handful of foreign men and women can be seen waiting in line behind the Iranian, amid the airport arrival hall's distinctive, modern architecture.



Police said a sixth possible suspect may also be involved, but were unable to provide details except to announce that an unidentified foreign man was seen visiting the others in Bangkok at a rented house.



Another published photograph, however, showed three other Iranian men, before they were arrested, enjoying themselves with Thai girls in the beach resort of Pattaya, 45 miles (70 kilometers) southeast of Bangkok.



Internationally notorious because of its large population of inexpensive prostitutes, Pattaya has attracted sex tourists, foreign criminals and others who have exploited its lax ways for decades.



"As one of Thailand's major tourist spots, Pattaya could be a 'soft target' for terrorists," the American Embassy in Bangkok said in a confidential 2005 cable headlined, "Pattaya: Thailand's Extreme City" and "A Prime Terrorist Target?" which was released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks last year.



"There is the large number of foreigners, including many from the Middle East and other areas of concern, making it easy for would-be terrorists to blend into the crowds," the U.S. embassy cable said.



"Pattaya has been a safe place for members of terror groups traveling in the region to shelter temporarily," according to the cable.



In the photo, the three Iranian men -- Saeid Moradi, Mohammad Kharzei, and Masoud Sedaghatzadeh -- appear relaxed on a sofa in a Middle Eastern restaurant alongside their female escorts, while enjoying beer and other drinks, plus three ornate hookah pipes provided by the restaurant.



Police said the photo was recovered in Pattaya from the mobile phone of one of the women, nicknamed Nan, who was Mr. Kharzei's escort.



In the picture, two women appear to be snuggling Mr. Sedaghatzadeh and 42-year-old Mr. Kharzei, while Mr. Moradi, 28, waits for his escort to take the photo using Nan's phone.



According to a published scan of his passport, Mr. Sedaghatzadeh's 31st birthday was on Feb. 12, but police did not announce the photo's date.



The three men stayed in Pattaya from Feb. 8 to 13, where they met the three Thai women who agreed to accompany them for an extended time to local restaurants, bars and for other entertainment, police said.



Nan said she went to Mr. Kharzei's hotel room where he told her not to look in his closet, police said.



"What we got from Ms. Nan is circumstantial evidence that helps confirm to us that they were here together in Pattaya," Police Lt. Col. Thawatchai Nongbua told reporters.



"National Police Chief, Priewpan Damapong, said police took Ms. Nan to the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok, to make Mr. Kharzei feel more at ease," the Bangkok Post reported on Friday (Feb. 17).



"Earlier, the suspect had showed signs of stress and refused to eat. After he met Ms. Nan, he appeared more relaxed and agreed to eat some food, Police Gen. Priewpan said," the paper reported.



On Tuesday (Feb. 14), the day after the Iranians left Pattaya, Mr. Moradi was arrested in Bangkok when he threw a grenade-like bomb at police which bounced back at him, destroying both his legs and injuring three Thai pedestrians.



Mr. Moradi spent Friday (Feb. 17) recovering in a Bangkok hospital where police hope to question him.



Police had been pursuing Mr. Moradi after he panicked and hurled a grenade-like device at a taxi which refused to give him a ride. That explosion damaged the vehicle and injured the driver.



Minutes earlier, Mr. Moradi and the two other Iranians fled their nearby rented house where they had stashed C-4 explosives, several magnets, hollowed-out radios and other bomb-making equipment, police said.



An unexplained explosion at the two-story house on Tuesday (Feb. 14) ripped off its roof and blew out the windows and doors, prompting the three Iranians to hurriedly leave on foot.



They appeared on security video images, taken by a nearby camera, which showed them carrying backpacks and walking away.



Mr. Kharzei was arrested hours later at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport trying to fly to neighboring Malaysia.



Mr. Sedaghatzadeh successfully boarded a departing flight at the airport on Tuesday (Feb. 14), but was arrested on Wednesday (Feb. 15) after arriving in Malaysia where he was being held, pending possible extradition to Thailand.



An Iranian woman identified as Rohani Leila, 32, allegedly rented the house where the other suspects stayed, but police said she most likely escaped back to Iran.



Israel's Ambassador to Thailand, Itzhak Shoham, said the bomb-making evidence discovered in the house included so-called "magnet bombs" similar to the ones used in India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Monday (Feb. 13).



In each of those attacks, a bomb equipped with a magnet was stuck onto an Israeli Embassy vehicle to be detonated.



The explosion in New Delhi injured an Israeli diplomat's wife and driver in her car.



But the device in Tbilisi was discovered while attached to a vehicle and defused.



Israel blamed Iran for the attacks in India, Georgia and Thailand, but Tehran denied the charges.



"We cannot say yet if it is a terrorist act, but it is similar to the assassination attempt against a diplomat in India," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters.



--------------------


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.



His websites are:

Asia Correspondent

Photos



(Copyright 2012 Richard S Ehrlich)