Jan 13 2012

US warns of Bangkok terrorist threat — updated for January 18

Published by at 6:30 pm under Health & safety

Around 15:30 today (Friday the 13th no less) the US Embassy in Bangkok sent out an email alert warning of a potential terrorist threat in Bangkok. The email was shortly after retracted, then, we’ve just learned, re-issued. ABC has a story on it here.

Dial in and don't panic.

Dial in and don't panic.

As is typical of this style of warning, it is frustratingly vague. The ABC story quotes the warning as saying “Foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.”

So short of just skipping Bangkok, it’s difficult to know what to do — or advise.

Subsequent chitchat on Twitter suggests arrests are in the process of being made. We’d still suggest in the meantime that it would be perhaps prudent to avoid key areas where tourists congregate in Bangkok. Top of our list would be: Khao San, Siam Square, Silom Soi 4 and Patpong, Cowboy and lower Sukhumvit.

We will update this as more news arrives. So for now, dial a pizza and put your feet up.

Update 19:00 GMT +8
Lots of different stories floating around. Most media reports are focusing on the arrest of two terror suspects from Lebanon, that happened, depending on who you believe, yesterday or this afternoon.

From Globe & Mail East Asia correspondent Mark MacKinnon:
“I know @KristieKenney [ed: US Ambassador]- she would not be scaring people away from a city she loves unless believes threat real and ongoing, despite arrests.”

More coverage:
Bangkok Post
Bangkok Pundit

Update 22:00 GMT +8
According to the New York Times a single suspect was arrested this afternoon in connection with all this, with authorities saying the plot was tipped to them in December. Why this has suddenly resulted in a cavalcade of action and wildly varied reports this afternoon is yet to become clear. Earlier reports had suggested two people were arrested.

The Australian government has updated their warning to reflect the US stance, saying “On 13 January 2012, the US Government warned its citizens in Thailand that foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.”

Update Saturday 08:00 GMT +8
The Bangkok Post has a quite disturbing story this morning which, despite Thai government protests, doesn’t really paint a picture of things being completely under control.

“A highly placed source at the Immigration Bureau said the US embassy told Thai authorities before Christmas that it had been informed by the Israeli embassy a group of suspected militants would launch attacks in Thailand, with Western and American people as their targets.

An investigation by the Metropolitan Police Bureau and the Special Branch Bureau found that a militant group travelled from Lebanon and stayed near Khao San Road.

They held two passports – Lebanese and Swedish. However, they managed to escape when police raided their room, although one of them was eventually arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa yesterday said security agencies had monitored the movements of terrorist suspects belonging to Hizbollah in Lebanon.

He said the suspects may plot car bomb attacks against important locations such as the Israeli embassy, Israeli churches, tour companies and restaurants visited by Israelis.”

Give the whole story a read, but it appears that perhaps the US Embassy warning was issued as a means to force Thailand’s hand on this — they then acted and one of the suspects got away (assuming that was the order it played out in — there are different reports of when and how many arrests were made). We’d imagine the last thing the Thais want is a high profile terror arrest in peak travel season Bangkok — if course it would be worse if they actually managed to pull something off.

The Israeli Embassy is on Sukhumvit Soi 19, and if we had to pick the number one place Israeli travellers congregate in Bangkok, it would be Khao San Road.

Will update this with more news as we hear it.

January 16 update 1

The Thai-language Post Today has a short paragraph translated in brief by Terry Frederickson of the Bangkok Post on Twitter (@terryfrd — follow him for timely translations of Thai-language media reports). He says the Post Today reports that a “raid on possible bomb-making site was carried out the night of the 14th. Police were accompanied by Israeli reps.” He says other Thai language sources say it took place in Mahachai.

The TAN Network (@TAN_Network) meanwhile says via Twitter that the “interrogation of Lebanese terrorist suspect leads police to raid building in Mahachai area which is used to store explosives for group”. No link to a main story or source seems to be given. They also cite the Thai-language Manager as reporting that the Israeli media has reported “Hezbollah has chosen Thailand as target and are planning Khaosan bombing before Feb 12″.

It’s all, in short, a bit of a mess. Our advice would be to stay informed of your own government’s advice for Bangkok. We are not postponing our travels to Bangkok later today.

January 16 update 2
Israeli newspaper Haaretz has an update, this time naming the suspect who has been brought in for questioning, but going on to say there were three suspects in total (previous reports have said two) which suggests there are two terror suspects on the lam around Bangkok.

The story also quotes a Thai defense source as saying, “A manhunt is still underway after the additional suspects, which means the threat still exists and the travel advisory is still in force.” This contradicts the official Thai government policy, which is that everything is under control and there is nothing to worry about.

Travel insurer World Nomads also has an update along with some advice regarding what to do in the event of a bomb blast.

January 18 update

Not too many developments, other than cranky Thai politicians still insisting everything is fine and pundits also questioning what’s going on. But here’s a good wrap from Time on the overall, still-shifting story.


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One Response to “US warns of Bangkok terrorist threat — updated for January 18” ...

  1. Bogus Threaton 18 Jan 2012 at 7:57 am

    Don’t blame the Thai government. This had more to do with business than terror. Thai government was actually correct to say that there was no threat from terror.