Three Iranians detained after accidentally setting off explosives in Bangkok were planning to attack Israeli diplomats, said Thailand’s top policeman.
It was the first confirmation by local officials that the group was plotting attacks in Thailand.
The allegation came after days of accusations by Israel that Iran was behind the botched plot as well as two others in India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week. Iran has denied the claims.
Citing the similarity of bombs used in New Delhi and Tbilisi, Georgia, national police chief Gen Prewpan Dhamapong said that Thai authorities now “know for certain that (the target) was Israeli diplomats”. He went on: “This issue was about individuals and the targets were specific,” he said. “This was something personal.”
Israel has accused Iran of waging a covert campaign of terror and has threatened military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran has blamed Israel for the recent killings of Iranian atomic scientists and has denied responsibility for all three bomb plots, including an explosion on Monday in New Delhi that tore through an Israeli diplomatic vehicle, wounding the driver and a diplomat’s wife, and a foiled attempt the same day in Georgia.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday it had stepped up security for diplomats posted overseas.
The plot in Bangkok was discovered on Tuesday only by accident, when explosives stored in a house occupied by several Iranian men blew up by accident.
One of the Iranians, Mohammad Kharzei, was paraded before journalists yesterday, his apparently handcuffed hands covered by a dark sheet.
Gen Prewpan said Kharzei had “partially confessed” and had acknowledged knowing one of the other suspects, Saeid Moradi, whose leg was sheared off by an explosive he was carrying as he fled police in the Thai capital’s busy Sukhumvit Road area.
Surveillance video released by police links the suspects: it shows them leaving their destroyed house just after the first blast. Moradi was the last to leave, and as he walked out with a heavy backpack over his shoulder, a small crowd that had begun to gather backed away, clearly terrified.
Kharzei did not speak as he stood before reporters, but Gen Prewpan described him as “stressed out” and another official said he was having trouble eating.
The third Iranian, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, was detained in Malaysia and police said he was being investigated for terrorism-related activities linked to the Bangkok blasts.
A Bangkok court has approved arrest warrants for all three suspects, as well as an Iranian woman named Leila Rohani who rented the destroyed house.
However, Rohani has left Thailand and is now in Tehran, according to the top immigration police official, Lt Gen Wiboon Bangthamai.
All four now face criminal charges including possession of explosives, attempted murder, attempted murder of a policeman and causing explosions that damaged property. Gen Prewpan said he believed there was enough evidence to prosecute them.
The Israeli ambassador to Thailand, Itzhak Shoham, declined to comment on reports his staff had been specifically targeted. He said the Israeli Embassy was open and functioning as normal.
Mr Shoham said earlier this week that the similarity of the bombs found in Bangkok and New Delhi had led Israel to believe the plots were linked.
Gen Prewpan also said that two homemade “sticky” bombs found at the blast site on Tuesday matched the devices planted on Israeli diplomatic cars in India and Georgia a day earlier.
Thailand’s acknowledgement that terror attacks were being planned on its soil stood in contrast to its denials of that last month, when police arrested a Lebanese-Swedish man with alleged links to Hezbollah.
At the time, authorities insisted Thailand was only being used as a staging post for attacks, but was not the target. The man led police to a warehouse near Bangkok packed with more than 8,800lbs of fertiliser and other materials that could be used to make bombs.
After that , Israel and the United States warned their citizens to be alert. The US Embassy said foreign terrorists may have been looking to attack tourist areas and Thai media reported the attacks were aimed at Israeli targets.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the violence yesterday.