By THANYARAT DOKSONE and TODD PITMAN, Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — The three Iranian men detained for allegedly plotting bomb attacks in Bangkok on Israeli diplomats had more than terror on their minds in Thailand. Police said Friday that they had also cavorted with prostitutes at a beach resort.
The news comes as Thai authorities announced they were searching for two more suspects in the botched bomb plot, including a possible explosives specialist who may have been training the Iranians.
The foiled plan was discovered Tuesday when explosives in the men's rented house blew up by mistake, forcing them to flee. Two were detained in the Thai capital, and a third was captured Wednesday in neighboring Malaysia as he reportedly tried to return to Iran.
After flying into the southern city of Phuket on Feb. 8, the men moved to Pattaya and stayed there for at least two nights before heading to Bangkok. Located 45 miles (70 kilometers) southeast of the Thai capital, Pattaya is particularly notorious for its sleazy sex industry and large contingent of prostitutes.
The Iranians hung out with several female sex workers during their stay there, and one of the women was brought to Bangkok to identify the suspects on Thursday, said Lt. Col. Noppon Kuldiloke, a senior immigration police investigator in southern Thailand.
A cellphone image taken by one of the women, published by the Bangkok Post with an article headlined "Suspects partied in Pattaya," purportedly showed the three Iranians at a Middle Eastern bar or restaurant surrounded by hookah water-pipes, two of them cradling women in their arms. The men posed for the photo around a low, drink-filled table on which there appeared to be at least one bottle of beer.
The woman who took the image said one of the now-detained suspects, Mohammad Kharzei, had asked her to escort him "because he was not good at speaking English," according to the Bangkok Post.
She said she brought two companions for Kharzei's friends, and they had drinks and played snooker together. The woman detected nothing awry, except when one of the Iranians "barred her from approaching a closet" in his hotel room, the newspaper reported.
The botched plot has ratcheted up tensions between Iran and Israel, which is accusing Iran of waging a covert campaign of state terror that included a bombing Monday in New Delhi that tore through an Israeli diplomatic vehicle, wounding an Israeli diplomat's wife and driver, and a failed bomb attempt the same day in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Iran has denied responsibility for all three bomb plots, and blames the Jewish state for the recent killings of Iranian atomic scientists.
Thailand's national police chief said Thursday that the detained Iranians were plotting to attack Israeli diplomats, citing the similarity of so-called "sticky" bombs that can be attached magnetically that were used in New Delhi and Tbilisi.
On Friday, Bangkok police commissioner Lt. Gen. Winai Thongsong announced authorities were searching for two more suspects in the case, including one man who was seen early Tuesday on closed circuit camera footage as he left the same house where the accidental explosion later took place.
Winai identified the suspect as 52-year-old Javad Nikkhahfard and said he was believed to be a bomb maker who had possibly been training the three Iranians. He said Nikkhahfard was of Middle Eastern descent, but gave no other details and did not give his nationality.
The camera footage showed the white-bearded man leaving the residence with a bag in his hand. Police say he had been coming and going repeatedly in previous days.
The same cameras captured each of the three Iranian men leaving the residence shortly after an explosion ripped the roof of the house that afternoon.
Winai said police also are looking for an additional suspect who had rented the destroyed home with an Iranian woman named Leila Rohani who is now believed to be back in Tehran.
Besides Kharzei, the two other detained suspects are Saeid Moradi, whose leg was sheared off by explosives he was carrying on a busy Bangkok street as he tried to flee, and Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, who was arrested in Malaysia and was trying to return to Iran.