Police in Samut Sakhon province yesterday seized a stockpile of substances that could be used to make a bomb, and said the chemicals were linked to the arrest of a suspected Lebanese terrorist believed to be a member of the Hezbollah militant group.
Suspect Atris Hussein was arrested over the weekend following a tip-off from Israeli authorities of a terrorist threat against Israeli and American property or citizens in Bangkok. Following information they said came from Atris, police raided a building on Rama II Road and found a stock of 4,380 kilograms of urea fertiliser and 260 litres of ammonium nitrate – chemicals that can be used as ingredients for a bomb.
National police chief Priewpan Damapong said the suspect did not intend to use the explosives to attack Bangkok, but had hidden them for shipment to another destination.
“He [the suspect] told Thai people to feel relaxed as there would be no terrorist activity in Thailand – definitely,” the police chief told reporters.
Police have not yet charged Atris with plotting a terrorist act but simply with having a potentially lethal substance without permission, according to deputy national police chief Pansiri Papawat.
The Lebanese suspect has been detained for further questioning. Thai authorities tried to play down the incident after the US Embassy issued an emergency warning on Friday that foreign terrorists might be looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.
US citizens were urged to exercise caution when visiting public areas where large groups of Western tourists gather in Bangkok, it said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the situation was now under control. Concerned agencies were instructed to be fully on alert and closely monitor the situation.
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said in her twitter page yesterday the advice to the US citizens still stood and asked nationals to check the embassy homepage for updates.
Prime Minister Yingluck said she also had instructed the Foreign Ministry to provide updated information to foreign representatives and tourists in Thailand for better understanding of the situation.
“May I beg understanding from the media. Let our concerned officials conclude the whole situation first and we will inform the public accordingly.
“At this stage, I urge people not to panic. The situation is now under control,” she said.
The opposition Democrat Party has accused the government of misinforming the public over the terrorism threat to the country.
“The government should be more cautious over this sensitive security issue since we are being watched by the world,” said opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The government had to have a clear stance and balance between the measures to provide safety in the country and relations with foreign countries.
“We need proper measures to protect our people – but for foreign countries, notably the US, we cannot allow them to guide us on any matter,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Kowit Wattana said there was nothing for Thai people to worry about as police and agencies were consulting to maintain order in the country.
At this moment, there was no intelligence information about foreign terrorists in the country, he said.
Bangkok Metropolitan Police work closely with Interpol and his government is efficient enough to take care of security matters for the country, he said.
Metropolitan Police Commander Winai Thongsong said Thailand was not the prime target for international terrorists but they used it as a transit point to ship their weapons to other destinations.
The commander said he had instructed officials to investigate more thoroughly to find if there were any Thais involved with the chemical stockpile. Thai national Krisana Promchana, who owned the building, seemed to know nothing about the chemicals. He simply provided the property for rent to the suspect, Winai said.
The suspect told police he had rented the building from a Thai national since January 2010 and had stored the chemicals there since then. He packed the substances in boxes and stored them among boxes containing electric fans. The substances were to be shipped together with other export goods from Thailand to other countries he did not name, according to Winai.
The chemical substance is now confiscated and under police protection, he said.
However, Winai said police would continue to patrol many heavily touristed sites such as Bang Lampu and Sukhumvit as well as possible targets such as the US Embassy on Wireless Road.