Terror suspect and alleged Hezbollah militant Atris Hussein led Thai police to a warehouse filled with bomb-making materials outside of Bangkok on Monday.
Police confiscated nearly 9,000 pounds of urea fertilizer as well as gallons of liquid ammonium nitrate and four shipping containers from the building in Samut Sakhon province. Hussein, who has been charged with illegally possessing explosive materials and faces five years in prison, said he and others had rented the warehouse a year ago, according to The Associated Press.
Hussein, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese origin, was arrested on Friday after the U.S. Embassy issued an “emergency message” warning that foreign terrorists were planning attacks on the capital in the near future. With Thai police still searching for another suspect with Hezbollah ties, the embassy is still urging American travelers to exercise caution when visiting public areas where large groups of Western tourists gather.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has downplayed the incident and the government has assured Bangkok residents that the terrorist group has left.
“I’d like to tell people not to panic. The situation is under control. There is no problem,” Yingluck told reporters, noting that security was increased following the warnings. “We can assure the safety of the [Thai] people and foreign tourists.”
It is unclear if Bangkok or Thailand were targets for an attack, and Thai police have eschewed the danger in the capital city, which earns a significant percentage of its revenue from tourism.
“I think Thailand is likely a transit point for other regions of the world,” Police Chief General Prewpan Dhamapong said on Monday. “It is unlikely that they would have staged terror attacks in Thailand.”
The suspect told us the bomb-making materials were not for terrorist attacks in Thailand, but were intended to be smuggled out of the country, Dhamapong added.
Nonetheless, Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau also issued a serious travel warning for tourists in Bangkok on Friday.
Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim group and political party born during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, is antagonistic toward the U.S., and also seeks to destroy the state of Israel.
Our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated, the group states in its manifesto.
Hezbollah receives support and funding from Iran, which has been increasingly at odds with both the U.S. and Israel since November. Last week, Tehran blamed the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist on Israel's Mossad and the CIA.
Historically, Hezbollah hasn't had an active presence in Thailand, said CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen on Friday, adding that the arrest was pretty surprising.
There is also an Islamic insurgency active in the south of Thailand.