BANGKOK — Thai authorities say they hope they have foiled the latest plot in the Southeast Asian country to attack young Israeli tourists.
Thailand’s police agency says security around locations frequented by Israeli tourists has been increased, although government officials deny published reports that as many as nine people linked to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah may still be at large in in the country.
A spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, Major General Piya Utayo, says security has been enhanced not only in Bangkok, but throughout the country.
Thai authorities say they hope they have disrupted plans for one or more attacks targeting Israelis by taking into custody two suspects.
The pair, natives of Lebanon, allegedly has ties to Hezbollah, considered by the United States and Israel to be a terrorist organization.
The arrested Lebanese men are identified as Daoud Farhat, who also holds French citizenship, and Youssef Ayad, who has a Philippines passport.
The director general of the Thai Foreign Ministry’s information department, Sek Wannamethee, tells VOA News the two are being held on violating terms of their tourist visas, but they have not been charged with any more serious offenses at this time.
“Materials were found which could be linked to violent means. But on the Thai side we could not conclude that they are here to operate any terrorist activities. But the Thai authorities, the immigration office, decided to revoke their visas. So we have to go through procedures, using the Immigration Act,” said Sek Wannamethee.
A third suspect Thai authorities were alerted to by Israeli officials did not enter the country, according to officials here.
Published reports say information provided by Israel outlined plans to launch attacks at six locations in the Thai capital.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to release any details. A spokesman says the Israeli government is “confident the Thai authorities are taking whatever steps necessary.”
The attacks, according to Thai officials, would have taken place last week during the Thai New Year’s (Songkran) festival, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Media reports say some of the attacks were to target Bangkok’s Khao San Road, where young backpackers, notably Israelis, tend to congregate.
A senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, Yoram Schweitzer, says Hezbollah has a sophisticated operations unit outside its base in Lebanon and has repeatedly tried to carry out attacks in Thailand, as well as other countries.
“In the last two years they have tried extensively to do it abroad, not only in Bangkok, in Turkey, in India, in Azerbaijan. And in Bangkok itself they tried to do something like this in 2012. And we had an operation even in ’96 that was foiled due to an accident. So they have these capabilities, they have these intentions and it is definitely not surprising,” said Schweitzer.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek says authorities in Bangkok are aware of this and intend to foil any future attempts.
“Thai security agencies remain vigilant," he said. "They work closely with all security units, particularly with the Israelis and with other countries. Because the fact is that Thailand is a destination for tourists and it’s an aviation hub in Southeast Asia. That is one of the downsides of being an aviation hub.”
Thailand is a popular budget destination and jumping off point to other nearby countries for young Israelis after completing their compulsory military service. It is estimated that about 120,000 Israelis visit Thailand annually.