Bangkok blasts prompt new accusations against Iran a day after Israelis targeted

February 15, 2012

Israel renewed its accusations against Iran on Tuesday after a man identified as an Iranian national was involved in a string of explosions in Bangkok. The blasts came a day after bombers targeted Israeli diplomats in two incidents in India and Georgia, stoking concerns in Israel about a possible wave of attacks on its representatives abroad.

The violence comes amid rising tension between Israel and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program and threats by Iran to avenge the deaths of several of its nuclear scientists in attacks that it has blamed on Israel.

Though authorities in Thailand said it was unclear whether the Bangkok explosions were linked to Monday’s incidents in New Delhi and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the three incidents were part of a pattern of attacks orchestrated by Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which is backed by Tehran.

“Iran and Hezbollah are unrestrained terrorist elements, a danger to the stability of the region and a danger to world stability,” Barak said during a visit to Singapore. An Israeli Defense Ministry statement that quoted Barak’s remarks noted that he had been in Bangkok for several hours on Sunday.

Police in Bangkok said Tuesday that an Iranian man who had fled an explosion in a house threw an explosive device at a taxi when it did not stop for him, according to wire service and local news accounts. He then hurled a grenade at approaching officers, but it either fell short or bounced back, blowing off one of his legs, the accounts said.

Another Iranian was detained at Bangkok’s international airport as he attempted to leave for Malaysia, the police were quoted as saying, but it was unclear whether he was linked to the blasts.

Thai police said a third suspect, identified as Zedhaghat Zadech Masoud, had escaped to Malaysia, AP reported early Wednesday. Immigration police chief Lt. Gen. Wiboon Bangthamai said Masoud is still believed to be in Malaysia.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Paul Hirschon, said there was “nothing concrete” indicating that Israeli or Jewish sites in Bangkok were intended targets, but he added that the incident was a cause for concern.

On Monday, a motorcyclist slapped a magnetic bomb onto a car carrying the wife of a member of the Israeli defense delegation in New Delhi, wounding the woman — who is an Israeli Embassy employee — and the driver. In Tbilisi, an explosive device was found attached to a car belonging to a driver for the Israeli Embassy; the authorities defused it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of organizing the attacks, a charge denied by the government in Tehran.

Along with Iran’s threats to avenge the killings of its scientists, Israeli diplomatic missions have been on heightened alert in recent days for possible attacks linked to the anniversary of the assassination of a top Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh, four years ago in Damascus, Syria.

The Israeli minister for public security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, said Tuesday that in view of the latest incidents abroad, he has ordered the police in Israel to “raise the level of alert, with an emphasis on public places,” for possible attacks inside the country.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that security has been heightened around foreign embassies, in bus and train stations, in malls, and at Ben Gurion International Airport.

In Washington on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he does not think Israel has decided whether to launch a military strike on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions, the Associated Press reported. Panetta emphasized, however, that the Obama administration is deeply worried about Iran’s behavior and apparent nuclear aspirations.

“We have common cause with Israel,” he said.

In India, Israeli investigators joined local police in probing Monday’s bombing in New Delhi, which Home Minister P. Chidambaram called the work of “a very well-trained person.”

Tal Yehoshua-Koren, the Israeli woman injured in the attack, underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from near her spine and was in stable condition, according to P.K. Sachdeva, a neurosurgeon treating her at Primus Hospital.

“She is responding to verbal commands,” the doctor told the Associated Press. “Her husband has met her. There is partial paralysis of the legs, but we are hoping that with time she will improve.”

Correspondent Simon Denyer in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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