Bombing disrupts Valentine’s Day calm in Bangkok

“Why do they have to do this on Valentine’s Day?” a young woman in a university student’s black-and-white uniform demanded to know.

Thailand Bangkok police 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Thailand Bangkok police 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BANGKOK – Not far from several popular shopping malls in central Bangkok, where young Thais were getting into the spirit of Valentine’s Day with pretty little bouquets and boxes of chocolate, a less wholesome sight greeted passersby Tuesday.
The sidewalk of a busy four-lane road, just off the city’s elevated light-rail line, bore the marks of a terrorist attack that unfolded earlier in the afternoon.
A line of phone booths and a small pizzeria right by a primary school had their windows blown out by an explosion and myriad shards of broken glass carpeted the pavement.
Several curious onlookers were taking pictures with their mobile phones.
“Why do they have to do this on Valentine’s Day?” a young woman in a university student’s black-and-white uniform demanded to know.
In response to an inquiring reporter, a policeman at the site grimaced and made a slight chopping gesture at his feet, indicating the attacker lost his legs in the incident.
According to Thai media reports, at around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, an explosion in a house rented by three Iranians sent them fleeing to the streets. Two of them managed to escape, while the third, wounded and bleeding, tried to hail a taxi.
When several taxis refused to stop, the man, later identified by Thai media as Saeid Morabi, threw a small bomb at a cab, damaging the vehicle and slightly injuring the driver.
Shortly afterward, Morabi lobbed another bomb at an approaching policeman. But the device bounced back from a tree, blowing off the Iranian’s legs and injuring three Thai civilians.
Morabi was taken to a local hospital in critical condition.
One of his alleged accomplices, identified as Muhammad Hazaei, was later arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport as he was waiting to board a flight to Malaysia.
As of late Tuesday night, the third Iranian remained at large.
Thai police said officers uncovered a cache of C-4 explosives and remote-control detonators in the house the three Iranians were renting.
The Bangkok terror attack came just a month after a Swedish-Lebanese man, with suspected ties to Hezbollah, was arrested in the city on terrorism charges following a tip-off to Thai authorities from US and Israeli sources that the terrorist group might be planning attacks against local tourist hotspots.
Police uncovered a large cache of bomb-making materials in a shop rented by Atris Hussein.
Bangkok’s Valentine’s Day bombing also came just a day after bombs targeted Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia, in what Israeli officials believe were coordinated attacks by Iran.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is on an official visit to nearby Singapore, said the Bangkok attack “proved that Iran and its proxies continue to operate in the ways of terror.”
Thai officials were more circumspect, insisting there was, as yet, no evidence to indicate the three Iranians were planning attacks in Bangkok.
Thailand is a major tourist hub that welcomes millions of travelers every year, including scores of Israelis and Middle Easterners. Thai officials are often at pains to play down the prospect of terror attacks by Islamist terrorists in the country for fear of scaring away potential visitors.
Over the past several years a brutal insurgency by separatists in Thailand’s three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, which border Malaysia, has claimed thousands of lives.