Bangkok: Police have stepped up security in Bangkok’s Khao San Road area, popular with Western tourists, after the arrest of two men whom Israeli sources claim were plotting to detonate a bomb there.
The area is popular with Australian backpackers staying in cheap hotels.
The Bangkok Post newspaper quotes police investigators as saying they believe at least nine suspected Middle Eastern terrorists are staying in Thailand.
Police said they are deploying more patrols and teams of undercover police to Kao San Road following a letter from Israel’s embassy in Bangkok that provided “useful information".
The embassy asked for extra protection in six areas in Bangkok, especially Kao San Road, where many Israelis come for a holiday after completing their service in the Israel Defence Forces.
Police arrested Youssef Ayad, a Lebanese-Filipino dual national, and Daoud Farhat, who has Lebanese and French citizenship, at hotels in Bangkok’s central Sukhumvit area last Monday, Thailand’s National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut confirmed, after receiving information about an alleged plot to attack Israeli tourists in the Kao San Road area during last week’s Songhran new year festivities.
The Bangkok Post on Saturday claimed Mr Ayad admitted planning an attack.
But after days of interrogation, police have not charged the men, saying there is no firm evidence linking them to criminal offences.
A mysterious website called Stop910 had earlier accused the men of scouting for attack sites in Bangkok and published their photographs.
The website describes itself as operated by "an association of western intelligence organisations established to fight the threat of terror". It aims to highlight the alleged activities of Unit 910, an overseas arm of the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.
“If we had been unable to arrest the men during Songhran, a bomb attack would certainly have taken place somewhere on Khao San Road,” an investigator was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying.
Mr Ayad has visited Thailand 17 times, according to his passport.
Thailand’s assistant national police chief Winai Thongson said the men, who have not spoken to the media, would be deported once police finish interrogating them.
Meanwhile, Australia and the United States have warned for the first time of plots to attack western residents or travellers in Thailand’s troubled south.
“Reporting indicates that extremists may be planning to target westerners in the southern border provinces,” Australia warns on its smartraveler.com.au website.
“We strongly advise you not to travel at this time to the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla or overland to and from the Malaysian border through these provinces due to high levels of ongoing violence in these areas, including terrorist attacks and bombings that result in deaths and injuries on an almost daily basis,” it warns.
Security experts say that targeting Westerners would be a significant tactical shift for insurgents fighting a bloody war against Thai security services in the provinces known as the "Deep South" that has left more than 5000 people dead since 2004.