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Richard S. Ehrlich: Alleged Iranian Bomb-Makers Arrested

Three Alleged Iranian Bomb-Makers Arrested After Bungling the Plot

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Malaysia arrested on Wednesday (Feb. 15) an alleged member of an Iranian bomb-making gang who plotted to assassinate Israeli diplomats, one day after he fled Bangkok where their house exploded and another Iranian had destroyed his own legs in a bungled blast while battling police.

Thailand meanwhile searched on Wednesday (Feb. 15) for a woman identified as an Iranian named Rohani Leila, 32.

She allegedly had rented the now-damaged house where the four suspects stayed, a few blocks from Iran's government-run Cultural Center in an upscale neighborhood where many Thai Muslims live.

The man arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, allegedly used an Iranian passport, number M20305701, which identified him as Masoud Sedaghatzadeh.

Mr. Sedaghatzadeh was born in Tehran on February 12, 1981, as the son of Abbas Sedaghatzadeh, according to a published scan of the document. (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Third-Iranian-suspect-arrested-and-detained-in-Mal-30175952.html)

He was trying to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Tehran on Wednesday (Feb. 15), after changing a previous booking scheduled for Feb. 25 on that same route, Thailand's Nation newspaper reported.

Mr. Sedaghatzadeh arrived in Malaysia on Tuesday (Feb. 14) evening, hours after the alleged bomb-making gang's plot unraveled during a bizarre, spectacular and bloody afternoon on Bangkok's crowded streets.

Thai police, meanwhile, hoped to question another Iranian man, Saeid Moradi, who was recovering in a Bangkok hospital after losing both legs when his explosive device bounced back at him in the street on Tuesday (Feb. 14).

A third Iranian man, Mohammad Hazaei, was arrested at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport on Tuesday (Feb. 14) during his failed attempt to also board a flight south to Malaysia after their safe-house exploded.

Israeli's Ambassador to Thailand, Itzhak Shoham, told journalists the bomb-making evidence discovered in their rented house included magnets, similar to ones used in so-called "magnet bombs" in New Delhi, India and Tbilisi, 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 in her car. But the device in Georgia 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.

"I think that terrorism looks for soft targets, and Thailand being so open a country and friendly, it is also a very, very soft target," the Israeli ambassador said on Wednesday (Feb. 15).

"People come here, and they feel they can do whatever they want. And we think that probably this is one of the reasons why the terrorists have chosen Thailand," Ambassador Shoham told Thailand's Nation TV.

The Israeli envoy said "the same type of explosive material" was used for the attacks in India and Georgia, "so it is exactly the same system, and so probably they wanted to do it to our cars here in Bangkok."

He praised Thailand's police investigation as "very effective, it is very serious. They are proceeding with the most efficiency."

Thai police said they discovered C-4 explosives hidden inside two radios in the damaged house in Bangkok.

Cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine, commonly called C-4 or RDX, is a soft, pliable, relatively safe-to-handle but powerful explosive which can be molded like clay into different shapes.

It is made from RDX powder mixed with water, solvent and other chemicals before it is dried.

Frequently used worldwide by terrorists and armies, C-4 bombs are set off by a smaller exploding electronic trigger, detonator, or blasting cap, because a fuse or fire will only make C-4 burn.

On Tuesday (Feb. 14), the three Iranian men allegedly set off an explosion in their rented, two-story house in the afternoon, apparently by accident, ripping off part of the roof, and knocking out the building's windows and doors.

Mr. Sedaghatzadeh and Mr. Hazaei fled in a taxi, while Mr. Moradi trailed behind on foot, injured from the blast, police said.

He was rejected by another taxi driver who became fearful upon seeing Mr. Moradi's bleeding head wound.

Upset, Mr. Moradi, 28, hurled a grenade-like bomb at the taxi, damaging the vehicle and lightly injuring the driver, who was able to run after him while yelling to pedestrians for help.

When a crowd chased Mr. Moradi, attracting police, he threw another grenade-like bomb at the cops, but it somehow bounced to his feet and exploded, ripping off one of his own legs and resulting in the loss of part of his other leg when he was later hospitalized.

Three Thai pedestrians were also injured in that blast, which scattered debris into the street, including bits of Mr. Moradi's legs.

Hours later, police arrested Mr. Hazaei, 42, at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport, but Mr. Sedaghatzadeh successfully escaped on a departing flight to Malaysia, police said.

Police charged both of the Iranian men arrested in Bangkok with criminal offenses, including causing an illegal explosion and attempting to kill police officers and members of the public.

"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, describing the Iranians' activities.

Police, accompanied by an Iranian Embassy official, questioned Mr. Hazaei who denied the charges.

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 -- suspected of being an Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist -- who was arrested in Bangkok on Jan. 12.

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

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

Police, however, increased security around potential Israeli targets including Bangkok's Jewish synagogues, Chabad House religious center, the Israeli embassy and elsewhere.

Officials have not publicly linked the two cases, but Israel blamed Iran for Mr. Atris's activities.

*****

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
http://www.asia-correspondent.110mb.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets

(Copyright 2012 Richard S Ehrlich)

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