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Hezbollah 'calls off attacks'

Suspect told police group has ditched its plan, Priewpan says, but patrols to go on

A Middle Eastern terrorist group had cancelled its plan to attack targets in Thailand after one of its members was arrested in Bangkok and the authorities learned about the plot, the national police chief quoted the suspect as saying yesterday.

Pol General Priewpan Damapong added, however, that the police would still be on guard, with patrolmen being deployed in areas that were possible targets, including popular tourist areas like Khao San Road and Soi Sukhumvit 22, as well as certain foreign embassies.

Priewpan said Lebanese man Atris Hussein, 48, who was arrested for suspected links with the Hezbollah militant group, yesterday admitted the plot to police interrogators.

"The suspect told us that the movement cancelled the plan after the authorities learned about it," he said, declining to provide any more details of the alleged confession.

The suspect has not been charged, as the plot was not carried out, according to the national police chief, who added that police are authorised by law to hold a suspect without charges for no more than 60 days.

He said the Metropolitan Police have stepped up security measures in certain areas of the city.

Metropolitan Police commissioner Police Lt-General Winai Thongsong said patrolmen, bomb-disposal units and sniffer dogs had been stationed at areas that could be possible targets, such as Khao San Road, Rambutri Road and Soi Sukhumvit 22.

The Lebanese man was arrested at the Suvarnabhumi Airport as he was attempting to leave Thailand. A hunt was on for another Lebanese man believed to be part of the plot. However, Hussein told police that he knew nothing about the other man, according to Priewpan.

On Friday, the US Embassy in Bangkok issued a terrorist threat warning in the capital. "Foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future," the embassy said in an emergency message posted on its website. US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said the threat was "real and very credible".

Other countries - including Israel, Canada and Australia - issued separate warnings for their citizens living in or visiting Bangkok about possible terrorist attacks.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul yesterday expressed his "disappointment and unhappiness" over the warnings by the United States, Canada and Australia. He said he would summon the ambassadors from those countries to explain the warnings to him, or Thailand would issue retaliatory measures against such a move.

He said the countries failed to discuss the matter with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before issuing their warnings.

Surapong said the government had taken all possible precautions to protect tourists and investors, adding that Thailand had good ties with countries all over the world and he did not think any country would want to attack the Kingdom.

In addition to the US, 11 other countries, including Britain, Sweden, Germany and Japan, advised their citizens to take caution while in Bangkok, according to an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

'No cause for concern'

Senior officials responsible for security affairs yesterday tried to allay public concerns about possible terrorist attacks in Bangkok.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha urged the public not to panic over the terror threat alerts, saying the Army and other responsible agencies were well prepared to ensure public safety. He said undue panic could affect the country's business sectors, particularly in this high season of tourist arrivals.

Prayuth said officials had possessed information on the terror warning for a while and that security agencies had been working on the matter continuously to ensure public safety.

Deputy Prime Minister Kowit Wattana, who is in charge of security affairs, yesterday played down the terrorist threat, saying: "There is no cause for concern as Thailand has always had careful security measures.

"Everything is all right. Don't worry. I and my authorities are taking good care of this matter," he said.

Meanwhile, Department of Special Investigation director-general Tarit Pengdith said yesterday his agency had detected no suspicious movements in the country regarding any terrorist group.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party asked the government to provide more details on the matter to avoid confusion among the public.


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