BANGKOK (The Blaze/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.
Thai police released the security camera images above of the three Iranian bomb suspects. From left to right, they are Saeid Moradi, Mohammad Kharzei and Masoud Sedaghatzadeh.
Moradi’s legs were blown off when explosives he was carrying detonated as he was walking on a Bangkok street, as The Blaze reported.
Though the motives of the bombers are not known, this would not be the first time terrorists have solicited prostitutes or used pornography. This, while at the same time denouncing the West’s so-called loose sexual values.
Senior al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki – the American-Yemeni imam who was killed in September by missiles fired from an American Predator drone flying over Yemen – preached for violent jihad and hesitated to shake hands with women, but according to a New York Times profile, he also patronized prostitutes.
Three of the 9/11 hijackers reportedly called a prostitute to tryst with them in a Boston area hotel in the week leading up to the fateful attack.
Among the items recovered from the computer files found in Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound were a “considerable quantity of pornographic videos.”
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has halted oil shipments to Britain and France, the Oil Ministry said Sunday, in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union after the bloc imposed sanctions on Iran’s crucial fuel exports.
The EU imposed tough sanctions against Iran last month, which included a freeze of the country’s central bank assets and an oil embargo set to begin in July. Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi had warned earlier this month that Tehran could cut off oil exports to “hostile” European nations. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 18 percent of Iran’s oil exports.
“Crude oil exports to British and French companies have been halted,” Oil Ministry spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad-Rahbar said on the ministry’s shana.ir website. “We have our own customers and have no problem to sell and export our crude oil to new customers.”
Britain’s Foreign Office declined comment, and there was no immediate response from French officials.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency said crude exports were halted Sunday to the two countries. It also said the National Iranian Oil Company has sent letters to some European refineries with an ultimatum to either sign long-term contracts of two to five years or be cut off.
Mehr did not specify which countries were sent the ultimatum, but Spain, Italy and Greece are among Europe’s biggest buyers of Iranian oil.
Iran’s targeting of Britain and France appeared to be a political decision to punish the two countries for supporting tougher sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Sunday’s announcement follows a flurry of contradictory signals by Iran about backlash against the EU for imposing a boycott on Iranian oil.
Last week, state media said Iran was planning to cut off oil exports to six EU nations, including France, but later reports said the nations were only told that Iran has no problem finding replacement customers for the European shipments.
The EU sanctions, imposed last month, were part of Western efforts to target Iran‘s critical oil sector in attempts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program.
The West fears Iran’s nuclear program aim to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies the allegations, and says the program is for peaceful purposes like producing electricity and medical isotopes.
The former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities is “imminent.”
Naftali Bennett appeared on Fox News’ “Huckabee” and painted a dire picture of a world with a nuclear Iran, saying Israel will not hesitate to take action if necessary — and that time is of the essence.
“We’re at the very last moment. This is going to be the first time in history that a maniacal, radical Islamic regime will acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The day after they have a bomb will be a different day for the entire world.”
On Saturday, a report emerged saying Iran is headed for a major nuclear expansion, the same day as reports that Iranian warships had passed through the Suez Canal.
Calling Iran “an octopus of terror,” Bennett told host Mike Huckabee in no uncertain terms: “We have to stop them, and yes, it is imminent.”
Huckabee questioned whether Israel would be able to sustain a “hot war” against Iran, to which Bennett replied, “if necessary we will.”
“Obviously America has much more capabilities of sustaining an attack on Iran but right now as it stands most of Iran’s facilities are still vulnerable. They‘re moving their facilities underground so that’s why we’re at the very last moment,” he said. “Right now we could still take them out based on public knowledge but a year from now it’s going to be a whole different ballgame. That’s why over the next 12 months the world has to act.”
He was harshly critical of President Barack Obama, charging that the U.S. administration has “squandered the ability to impose crippling and even paralyzing sanctions on Iran. The sanctions that are being imposed now are too little, too late.”
Bennett said many Israelis are concerned about whether they would have America’s support if they strike.
“We do not know for sure now that America will be there for us in this current administration and that’s why we are concerned,” Bennett said. “We’re being told, ‘Israel do not attack Iran.’ But how can we not do it? We don‘t know what we’re going to see 12 months from now, we have no guarantee that others will take care of it. If necessary we’ll do the job for the world but please, please don’t tell us to stand back and just wait and I guess pray for something good to happen.”
“We’ve got to do the job. If Obama won’t do it, please let Israel do the job,” he said.
Iranian warships have reportedly sailed through Egypt’s Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea as speculation continues to grow that a conflict between Iran and Israel could be on the horizon. The passage, only the second by Iranian forces through the canal since the Islamic republic’s 1979 revolution, was first reported by Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency Saturday. BBC News reports on the advance:
“The destroyer Shahid Qandi and its supply vessel Kharg have passed through the Suez Canal but their destination remains unclear. Navy chief Admiral Habibollah Sayari told the Irna agency the mission was a show of might and a ‘message of peace.’
Two Iranian navy vessels entered the Mediterranean in February last year. Israel called it a ‘provocation.’
Admiral Sayari was quoted by Irna as saying: ‘The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the Islamic Revolution.’
The mission conveyed ‘the might’ of Iran to regional countries and Tehran‘s ’message of peace and friendship.’”
A source told Reuters that the two Iranian naval ships received permission to cross through the canal by Egyptian armed forces and “could be on their way to the Syrian coast.” Reuters notes that Iran and Syria agreed to cooperate on naval training a year ago, and Tehran has no naval agreement with any other country in the region. Both Iran and Syria are hostile to Israel.
The news comes as tensions between Iran and Israel appear to be reaching a breaking point, with many speculating that Israel may strike Iran to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program. CNN reports that Israel has also blamed Tehran for attacks on Israeli targets in India, Georgia and Thailand.
CNN notes that the United States and the European Union bolstered sanctions against Iran after a November report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said Iran could be developing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is strictly for civilian energy purposes.
Western nations had welcomed a letter from Iran Friday offering to resume stalled nuclear talks, however, the Obama administration still suspects that sanctions will not deter Tehran from continuing its nuclear program as military action appears eminent. The Guardian reports that “there is a strong current of opinion within the administration – including in the Pentagon and the state department – that believes sanctions are doomed to fail, and that their principal use now is in delaying Israeli military action, as well as reassuring Europe that an attack will only come after other means have been tested.”
The Egyptian government allowed Iranian ships to first pass through the canal in February 2011, just days after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
VIENNA (AP) — Iran is poised to greatly expand uranium enrichment at a fortified underground bunker to a point that would boost how quickly it could make nuclear warheads, diplomats tell The Associated Press.
They said Tehran has put finishing touches for the installation of thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the cavernous facility – machines that can produce enriched uranium much more quickly and efficiently than its present machines.
While saying that the electrical circuitry, piping and supporting equipment for the new centrifuges was now in place, the diplomats emphasized that Tehran had not started installing the new machines at its Fordo facility and could not say whether it was planning to.
Still, the senior diplomats – who asked for anonymity because their information was privileged – suggested that Tehran would have little reason to prepare the ground for the better centrifuges unless it planned to operate them. They spoke in recent interviews – the last one Saturday.
The reported work at Fordo appeared to reflect Iran’s determination to forge ahead with nuclear activity that could be used to make atomic arms despite rapidly escalating international sanctions and the latent threat of an Israeli military strike on its nuclear facilities.
Fordo could be used to make fissile warhead material even without such an upgrade, the diplomats said.
They said that although older than Iran’s new generation machines, the centrifuges now operating there can be reconfigured within days to make such material because they already are enriching to 20 percent – a level that can be boosted quickly to weapons-grade quality.
Their comments appeared to represent the first time anyone had quantified the time it would take to reconfigure the Fordo centrifuges into machines making weapons-grade material.
In contrast, Iran’s older enrichment site at Natanz is producing uranium at 3.4 percent, a level normally used to power reactors. While that too could be turned into weapons-grade uranium, reassembling from low to weapons-grade production is complex, and retooling the thousands of centrifuges at Natanz would likely take weeks.
The diplomats’ recent comments came as International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are scheduled to visit Tehran on Sunday. Their trip – the second this month – is another attempt to break more than three years of Iranian stonewalling about allegations that Tehran has – or is – secretly working on nuclear weapons that would be armed with uranium enriched to 90 percent or more.
Diplomats accredited to the IAEA expect little from that visit. They told the AP that – as before – Iran was refusing to allow the agency experts to visit Parchin, the suspected site of explosives testing for a nuclear weapon and had turned down other key requests made by the experts.
Iranian officials deny nuclear weapons aspirations, saying the claims are based on bogus intelligence from the U.S. and Israel.
But IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has said there are increasing indications of such activity. His concerns were outlined in 13-page summary late last year listing clandestine activities that either can be used in civilian or military nuclear programs, or “are specific to nuclear weapons.”
Among these were indications that Iran has conducted high explosives testing and detonator development to set off a nuclear charge, as well as computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead. The report also cited preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test and development of a nuclear payload for Iran’s Shahab 3 intermediate range missile – a weapon that could reach Israel.
Iran says it is enriching only to make nuclear fuel. But because enrichment can also create fissile warhead material, the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Tehran in a failed attempt to force it to stop.
More recently, the U.S., the European Union and other Western allies have either tightened up their own sanctions or rapidly put new penalties in place striking at the heart of Iran’s oil exports lifeline and its financial system.
The most recent squeeze on Iran was announced Friday, when SWIFT, a financial clearinghouse used by virtually every country and major corporation in the world, agreed to shut out the Islamic Republic from its network.
Diplomats say the choke-holds are being applied in part to persuade Israel to hold off on potential military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities – among them Fordo, a main Israeli concern because it is dug deep into a mountain and could be impervious to the most powerful bunker busting bombs.
Diplomats told the AP earlier this month that Iran had added two new series or cascades of old-generation IR-1 centrifuges to its Fordo operation, meaning 348 centrifuges were now operating in four cascades.
Olli Heinonen, who retired last year as the IAEA’s chief Iran inspector, recently estimated that these machines, and two other cascades at Natanz can produce around 15 kilograms (more than 30 pounds) of 20-percent enriched uranium a month, using Iran’s tons of low-enriched uranium as feedstock.
The low and higher enriched uranium now being produced “provides the basic material needed to produce four to five nuclear weapons,” Heinonen said.
But he suggested “an altogether different scenario” – a much quicker pace of enrichment to levels easily turned into weapons-capable uranium if Iran starts using newer, more powerful centrifuges at Fordo. That, said the diplomats, is exactly what Iran appears to be on the verge of doing by finishing preparatory work recently for new centrifuge installations.
Fordo, which can house 3,000 centrifuges, was confidentially revealed to the IAEA by Iran in 2009, just days before the U.S. and Britain jointly announced its existence.
Iran announced last year that it would move its 20-percent uranium production to Fordo from Natanz and sharply boost capacity. It started making higher grade material two years ago saying it needed it to fuel a research reactor.
But the U.S. and others question the rationale, pointing out that Iran rejected offers of foreign fuel supplies for that reactor and is making more of the higher-enriched material than that small reactor needs.