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Thursday 16 February 2012

Israel, Iran battle over who's behind string of bombings

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Israel and Iran traded accusations Wednesday over a string of bombings in other countries, with Israel pointing fingers at Tehran and the Iranian regime calling such claims a "prelude" to an Israeli attack.
The fight came as authorities arrested three Iranians in connection with a string of blasts in Bangkok, and a Thai official drew a tentative link to attacks this week aimed at Israeli officials in India and Georgia.
The materials used in the explosive devices were similar, a senior Thai security official said, according to Thailand's state-run news agency, MCOT.
Two men allegedly involved in the Bangkok blasts were arrested in Thailand and charged, authorities said.
"They were not charged with terrorism but criminal charges have been filed against them for possessing explosive materials, harming others and attempting to kill others," Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said, according to MCOT.
A third suspect was arrested by authorities in Malaysia.
Thai officials also have an arrest warrant for a woman who is believed to have left Thailand.
"Iran is a threat to the stability of the world. They are targeting innocent diplomats," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The international community has to denounce the Iranian actions and to indicate red lines concerning the Iranian aggression."
Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, "condemned the blasts and said that Israeli agents are often the perpetrators of such terrorist acts," Iran's state-run Press TV said in an article on its website.
And state-run Iranian news agency IRNA quoted an analyst as saying the Israeli allegations against Iran involving the bombings in India and Thailand are "a prelude to terrorist attacks against the Islamic Republic."
But Netanyahu, speaking in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, called Iran the leading terror in the world. "Right now in the past days the Iranian terror has been witnessed by all," he said.
The attacks and accusations come amid high tensions between Israel and Iran. Israel had made clear it is considering attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel, the United States and other countries are concerned Iran is building nuclear weaponry, despite Tehran's insistence that its nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes.
Iranian officials openly antagonize Israel, and Israeli officials have described the regime in Tehran as an existential threat.
The first bomb Tuesday went off in a rental house in Bangkok believed to be leased to foreigners, according to Thai authorities. After the blast, two of the men left the scene while a third detonated two more bombs -- one when a taxi driver refused to give him a ride, and another when he tried to throw a bomb at police officers as they closed in on him.
The last bomb exploded near the man, blowing off one of his legs, authorities said. He was taken to Chulalongkorn General Hospital for treatment and Iranian documents were found on him. Thai authorities identified him as Saeid Moradi, 28.
Another man arrested at the airport holds an Iranian passport and is one of the two men who left after the bombing at the house, the Thai government said, adding that he was identified as Mohammad Hazaei, 42. He was about to leave for Malaysia, the government said.
Authorities charged those two men with several offenses, including illegal possession of explosives and intent to kill a police officer, said Gen. Pansiri Prapawat, deputy police commander.
Authorities in Malaysia arrested Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, 31, Wednesday afternoon as he was about to board a plane to Iran, Thai authorities said.
Thai authorities were looking for Rohani Laila, the woman believed to have rented the house in Bangkok.
Israeli Foreign Ministry personnel based overseas have been on alert in recent weeks to the heightened possibility of attacks at Israeli facilities by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Muslim militant group and political party backed by Iran.
Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyah in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria. Hezbollah holds Israel responsible and has vowed revenge.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the level of alert in the country had been raised following a security assessment after the overseas incidents in New Delhi and Tbilisi, the capitals of India and Georgia.
The alert means patrols will be heightened in and around various public areas inside Israel, and around Israeli embassies and offices worldwide.
In the Monday incidents, a device attached to an Israeli Embassy van in New Delhi exploded and injured four people. Another device was found on an embassy car in Tbilisi but it was safety detonated.
Iran has also denied involvement in those events, which are still being investigated.
The materials used in the Bangkok bombs had many similar characteristics to those used in India, said Wichean Potephosree, secretary-general of the Thai National Security Council.
The Israeli government issued a travel advisory this year for citizens traveling to Thailand after Thai security officials arrested a man in January connected with a planned attack in the country.
Police charged the man, Atris Hussein, after finding "initial chemical materials that could produce bombs" in an area just outside Bangkok. Police said Hussein, who also holds a Swedish passport, led them to the location.
Authorities accuse Hussein of trying to attack spots in Bangkok that are popular with Western tourists and say he is believed to belong to Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim group active in Lebanon that the United States views as a terrorist organization.
Potephosree said Wednesday that Thai authorities do not believe there is any link between Hussein and the blasts in Bangkok on Tuesday.
CNN's Kocha Olarn, Jethro Mullen, Kevin Flower, Josh Levs, and John Dear contributed to this report.

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