Bangkok terrorism alert a face-losing embarrassment by Thai government (updated Jan 20, 2012)

Bangkok terrorism alert a face-losing embarrassment by Thai government (updated Jan 20, 2012)
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A Bangkok terrorism alert issued by the American embassy in Bangkok and at least 14 other nations which has been continually downplayed and criticised by Thailand officials is gaining credibility day-by-day, while proving to be an increasingly face-losing embarrassment for the country and its political leaders.

Emergency terrorism alert issued by the US embassy in Bangkok
Emergency terrorism alert issued by the US embassy in Bangkok US Embassy in Bangkok

A report today by the highly respected award-winning intelligence and security news service Debkafile adds additional credibility to the Bangkok terrorism alert, claiming Hezbollah planned to explode a bomb at Beth Habad Bangkok, mimicking al Qaeda’s 2008 attack in Mumbai which killed 8 Israelis, while up to two other terrorism cells were to strike simultaneously in the “Khao San Road restaurants popular with Israelis and Americans”, repeating the catastrophic 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people. (Ed: A Chabad house is a center for disseminating Orthodox Judaism)

The Debkafile says Lebanese nationals living in Bangkok were approached to support the Bangkok terrorism spree, but instead notified Israeli and other foreign embassy intelligence agencies due to doubts Thai authorities would act.

Last Friday, January 13, the American embassy Bangkok issued an “Emergency Message to U.S. Citizens” titled Possible Terrorist Threat in which it said, “foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future”.

The Bangkok terrorism alert was repeated by the governments of other countries and just hours after the Bangkok terrorism alert was issued two Lebanese nationals identified as members of the militant Shi’a Muslim group Hezbollah were reportedly detained at Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi Airport.

That the seriousness of the alert failed to become immediately apparent to the Thailand Government was reflected in the responses by everyone from the prime minister down, with Thailand Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul threatening retaliation against foreign embassies that issued the Bangkok terrorism alert.

Bangkok terrorism alert nothing unusual

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that Bangkok terrorism alert was ”nothing unusual”.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that Bangkok terrorism alert was ”nothing unusual”. John Le Fevre

Following the arrest of what unexplainably later became only one person, Thai officials appeared to line up to demonstrate their inability to comprehend the gravity of the situation, led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Mr Tovichakchaikul who insisted the Bangkok terrorism alert was “nothing unusual”‚ before the suspect(s) had even been interrogated.

Mr Tovichakchaikul said he was “disappointed and unhappy” that the USA, Israeli, Canadian, and Australian embassies in Bangkok had issued the Bangkok terrorism alert without discussing it with the foreign ministry first, claiming he would be asking the respective foreign ambassadors for an explanation.

However, despite lots of huffing and puffing publicly Mr Tovichakchaikul relegated the chastising of foreign diplomats to the ministry’s permanent secretary, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who is said to have told the US embassy’s deputy chief of mission Judith Cefkin, the Bangkok terrorism alert should have been handled with more “caution and discretion” as such actions could have serious impacts on Thailand.

Deputy Prime Minister in charge of security affairs, Kowit Wattana, said the government will ensure the people’s safety and that they need not be concerned about the terrorist warnings issued by several foreign governments, while Thailand’s powerful army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said undue panic could affect the country’s business sectors, particularly in this high season of tourist arrivals.

Demonstrating devout nationalism former prime minister and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva accused the Government of misinforming the public over the Bangkok terrorism threat, but added “we cannot allow them (the USA) to guide us on any matter”, demanding the Government instruct the USA to withdraw the Bangkok terrorism alert.

Bangkok terrorism attack by February 12 – Israel

Since the Bangkok terrorism alert was issued conflicting statement after the other has been issued by various Thai officials seeking to not be left out of the spotlight, requiring the US embassy in Bangkok to reiterate on several occasions that the Bangkok terrorism alert remains in effect, while Israel says a terrorism attack in Bangkok will occur before February 12. (Ed: Up to the time of publication the Bangkok Terrorism alert remained in place)

A Thai television station is reporting that the Lebanese suspect has led police to a warehouse housing materials that could be used to make explosives. The suspect was detained Thursday.
A Lebanese suspect, Atris Hussein, with alleged links to Hezbollah militants is escorted for interrogation at the Thai border police headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. AP

Amongst the various statements have been that 48-year-old Atris Hussein, admitted to being a member of Hezbollah, though “not the militant arm“; that positively, absolutely no terrorism attacks were planned for Thailand; that the group had cancelled its plan to attack targets in Bangkok after Thai authorities became aware of them.

According to the Debkafile, Mr Hussein admitted “he was on a mission to attack Jewish, Israeli and American sites and that explosive materials had been prepared in advance by another Hezbollah team, which had pinpointed the targets and was to have briefed the perpetrators while being interrogated on Sunday.

On Tuesday, January 17, Mr Hussein led a posse of more than 200 police to a shophouse in Samut Sakhon, about 45km (28 miles) from Bangkok, where 4,380kg (9,656lbs) of urea fertiliser and 260 liters (68.68 gallons) of ammonium nitrate were found in a building the group had rented since January 2010. (Ed: Ammonia nitrate was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people while al Qaeda have used fertiliser-based bombs for attacks on synagogues, the British consulate in Istanbul, and other targets)

According to Thailand’s national police chief Priewpan Damapong, Mr Hussein denied the chemicals were destined for a terror attack in Thailand, but instead were destined for shipment to Africa, however, sources close to the investigation said Mr Hussein claimed he used to drive around the capital taking photos of key sites.

Hezbollah planned multiple bombs in Bangkok terror spree

While Thailand continues to downplay the seriousness of the Bangkok terrorism threat in an attempt to protect its precious tourism industry, said to have attracted more than 19 million foreign visitors spending about Bt734.59 billion ($US23.107 billion) in 2011, the Debkafile report, if accurate, raises the specter of a calamity so great that the Thai government should be grateful the warnings were issued.

When Bangkok’s Santika nightclub caught fire on New Years Eve 2009 67 people were killed and more than 200 injured, with Bangkok’s notorious traffic preventing firefighting appliances from getting to the scene rapidly.

Debkafile report claims the planned terrorism attack includes blowing up the Beth Habad Bangkok building and the taking of hostages
Debkafile report claims the planned terrorism attack includes blowing up the Beth Habad Bangkok building and the taking of hostages Debkafile

Located in Soi Sukhumvit 20, Beth Habad Bangkok includes a hostel housing dozens of tenants and according to the Debkafile the plan included blowing up the building and the taking of hostages, while a second terrorism team was to have implemented a reign of death, and carnage in the popular Khao San Road backpacker section of Bangkok along the lines of the bombing committed by Jemaah Islamiyah in Kuta, Bali on October 12, 2002.

This is not the first time that Thailand has played fast and loose with the facts when it comes to international terrorism.

In 2001 following the terrorism attacks in the USA the government of then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (elder brother of the current prime minister) denied emphatically there were any terrorist cells operating in the Southeast Asian kingdom.

In 2003 these comments came back to bite the country on the bum when one of the masterminds of the horrendous 2002 Bali bomb, Jemaah Islamiyah chief Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, was arrested in Ayutthaya and told interrogators Thailand had been a base for planning the Indonesia bombing.


Ed: Debkafile states Bangkok terrorism alert suspect Mr Hussein was arrested on his arrival in Bangkok and that only 10 gallons of ammonium nitrate were found, while the Thai version is that he was attempting to depart and significantly more ammonium nitrate was seized. Comment has been sought from Debkafile.

On March 11, 1994, a six-wheeled truck collided with a motorcycle, knocking the driver to the ground. As is common in Thailand, the driver ran from the scene, abandoning the truck which Bangkok police towed to an impound lot where they opened it and found a large water tank packed with explosives, along with the corpse of the original truck driver.

Thai authorities arrested Iranian national Hossein Shahriarifar a few weeks later as he attempted to enter Thailand from Malaysia on a false passport.

Mr Shahriarifar was sentenced to death in 1996, but in 1998 the Thailand Supreme Court overturned the earlier verdict claiming the evidence was unreliable and he was released, much to the delight of the Iranian embassy who had lobbied hard on Mr Shahriarifar’s behalf.

Jan 19, 2012
An eMail received from Debkafile since this article was published states: Our sources confirm the point you raised, the most important of which is his arrest on arrival. This only raises further questions on what the truth really is concerning the Bangkok terrorism alert issued by foreign embassies in Bangkok on January 13, 2012.

Jan 19, 2012
On Thursday, January 19, Bangkok based Swedish reporter Jan Kallman of the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet Bangkok terror alert suspect Atris Hussein at the Bangkok Remand Center. Mr Hussein says he became a Swedish citizen in 1994, obtaining a new finger-print secured Swedish passport in 2010.

He says he and his family returned to Lebanon in 2005 and since then he has been involved in legitimate business transactions and denies being a member of the Hezbollah group.

He says he returned to Thailand to check his warehouse following the 2011 Thailand flood and to finalise a business shipment to Liberia. He says he was detained while attempting to depart Bangkok, and that the fertiliser found in his shophouse in Samut Sakhon does not belong to him.


This story was updated at 15:15 Jan 20, 2012
Edited text in blue type

This story was updated at 09:30 Jan 19, 2012.
Edited text in green type



Feature photo AP






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John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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3 Responses to "Bangkok terrorism alert a face-losing embarrassment by Thai government (updated Jan 20, 2012)"

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