Bangkok terror 101


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It has been a peculiar weekend in Bangkok. On Friday afternoon, the US Embassy issued a rather vague warning that there was the possibility of a terrorist attack being carried out in the Thai capital. The announcement came out of the blue and the Thai authorities were quick to downplay the warning, insisting that there was no threat and that everything was under control.

The general public was left largely confused and in the dark. It was difficult to know who to believe. Was the US overreacting? Were the Thai authorities deliberately playing down the threat? Was this all part of some sinister plot involving US interests? Information trickled into the public domain at an alarmingly slow rate given that an attack was supposedly planned for some time between January 13-15, as we were to learn.

It came to light that a suspected Hezbollah member had been taken in by Thai police on Friday.

A suspected Hezbollah member arrested on Friday by police targetted Jews and Americans in Bangkok, Defence Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa said today.

The militant group's plan was only to target certain public areas where large groups of Israelis and Americans were known to gather, such as Khao San Road, Gen Yutthasak told a news conference. No other provinces were on its list. (Bangkok Post)

Even so, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney was clear that the threat was still real, regardless of any arrests made. In a most unusual manner, she took to Twitter to urge people to keep a low profile over the weekend.

Yutthasak told reporters that Thailand had known about Hezbollah movements in Thailand since December 18, which is nearly a month ago. Yutthasak said the information had been kept from the public so as not to cause undue panic or impact the country's tourism industry. A lot of us were left wondering why the US made this announcement instead of Thailand. If something blows up in a crowded part of Bangkok, it will clearly not be just US citizens who are affected.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said Thai authorities received a tip-off before New Year’s of a planned attack, which was said to target Israelis. (AP)

A number of people have questioned this. Why would Hezbollah be targeting Israelis in Thailand?

For the US to issue such a "severe" warning, out of the blue, was most peculiar. For the Thai authorities to immediately play down the warning was perhaps expected. But as someone who has tried to make sense of this with limited success, I really don't know what the heck happened here. Was a crisis averted? Was there ever really a threat? Doesn't the public deserve to be kept better informed?

The other thing that confused me was the swiftness with which this thing kept turning on itself. The announcement was made, then there was a manhunt for two Lebanese men, then one had been found and then sinister plot to blow Bangkok was announced as "cancelled", all within a few hours.

In an attempt to straighten out some of the facts, I made this Storify timeline of how the weekend played out.

Also, Bangkok Pundit has a better roundup of all this than I've been able to cobble together here.

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