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Thailand Arrests Hezbollah Terror Suspect, U.S. Warns of Attack in Bangkok

By Daniel Ten Kate
January 13, 2012 12:01 PM EST
Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi
Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi

Thailand said it arrested a Lebanese terror suspect aiming to target Jewish sites in Bangkok less than three hours after the U.S. warned of a possible attack.

Thai police arrested a suspect linked to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung told reporters. U.S. Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler said by phone the warning remains in place even after reports of the arrest.

“The situation is normal,” Police Chief Priewpan Damapong told reporters. “There is nothing to worry about.”

The U.S. warned today in an “emergency message” that “foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.” U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney said on Twitter the threat is “Bangkok specific” and “credible.”

Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally that sent troops to Iraq in 2003, depends on tourism for about 7 percent of gross domestic product, according to the government. The benchmark SET Index (SET) fell 0.7 percent, the most in a month, after the U.S. warning.

Minor International Pcl (MINT), Thailand’s biggest hotel operator, dropped 3.4 percent, the most in seven weeks, Dusit Thani Pcl slumped 4 percent and Shangri-la Hotel Bangkok Pcl fell 3.1 percent. Thailand had about 19 million tourist visits last year, according to official statistics.

Car Bomb

The U.S. told Thai officials several days ago that two terrorist suspects had entered Bangkok, Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha told reporters. A car bomb might be used at the Israeli Embassy, Jewish places of worship, tourist companies and restaurants, he said, adding that Hezbollah was “aiming for revenge against Israelis living in Thailand.”

Thai and Israeli intelligence officials are monitoring the group, Yuthasak said. INN News earlier cited Chalerm as saying two suspects were arrested.

Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997. It is among several terrorist groups supported by Iran, according to the U.S. State Department.

The threat may be related to U.S. moves to sanction Iran over its nuclear weapons program, according to Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based analyst at IHS Jane’s.

Iranian Tensions

The U.S. is “looking at pro-Iranian groups that might possibly react to what may very well go down in the Straits of Hormuz and possibly beyond,” Davis said. “It seems unlikely that terrorist attacks would be launched before the situation in the Middle East has escalated significantly.”

Tensions over the ratcheting up of sanctions led Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to threaten on Dec. 27 that Iran may block the Strait of Hormuz, the transit for about a fifth of the world’s oil, if the European Union bans exports from the Islamic Republic.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner visited China and Japan this week to build support for tighter Iranian economic sanctions after international monitors detected an acceleration in the nation’s nuclear development program. Ally Japan pledged to reduce Iran oil imports after China rejected a similar move.

Hambali, the suspected leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia and Jemaah Islamiyah’s operations chief who also goes by the name Riduan Isamuddin, was captured in Thailand in 2003 and is now in U.S. custody.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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