The truck continued on its way but after it had gone only 15-20 metres it was forced to stop by two other motorcycle taxis who had witnessed the collision. One of the motorcyclists approached the driver of the truck and asked him why he left the scene of the accident.
According to their testimony, Boonserm soon joined them. The driver opened the window and without saying anything offered him three green banknotes of a foreign currency, probably US bills. When Boonserm refused the pay-off the driver reluctantly stepped out of the truck and walked slowly towards the rear of the vehicle. A very upset Boonserm insisted that they walk back to the spot of the accident. The truck’s driver, who spoke in a foreign language, gestured that he needed to make a phone call. After the driver entered Central Chidlom he was never seen again.
The truck was driven by the police to the local Lumpini district police station on Wireless Road, where Boonserm filed a complaint. Eventually, the owner of the truck, a Thai woman named Linchi Singtongam, was notified of its whereabouts. The truck was parked outside the police station until she came to pick it up. In the meantime no one suspected it contained such an incredibly lethal cargo.
When Ms Linchi came for her vehicle on March 17, she told the police that she had rented the truck out. She immediately noticed that alterations had been made, including the installation of dark film on the driver’s side windshield and the removal of two posts from the platform bed, increasing the storage space. Ms Linchi told the police of the alterations and they decided a thorough examination was in order.
Further search revealed various metal objects and metal tubes connected by wires starting about 30 centimetres below the top of the tank. The wires were connected in a circuit that led to the truck’s cabin, ending in two manual switches beneath the driver’s seat.
Bomb experts determined that the tubes contained C-4 plastic explosive, with two detonators linked to each tube. The granular substance was ammonium nitrate mixed with diesel. Combined with C-4 explosives, this was the makings of a huge explosion.
If the policeman who drove the truck from the scene of the accident to the police station or anyone else had flipped switches beneath the seat in the week the truck was parked outside the station it would have caused enormous destruction.
After all the explosives were carefully removed, the water tank contained one further shock for police examiners: the mangled and decomposing body of Thai national Chom Thila, an employee of Ms Linchi. Both his arms were broken and he was reportedly strangled with a rope. Ms Linchi told police she had agreed to rent the truck to a man who hadn’t produced the required identification as long as Chom was the driver. He paid for her routine business decision with his life.
Ms Linchi said that on March 8 two foreigners of Middle-Eastern appearance signed a contract to rent the truck for three days for the purpose of transporting sofas from Bangkok’s Sukhapiban area to Chiang Mai. The price specified was 12,000 baht.
The technical report from the Royal Thai Police stated: “The perpetrator of the crime made the bomb himself using uric acid fertiliser combined with diesel to heighten the strength of the explosion. The bomb was placed in a 1,600-litre water tank and was combined with 14 detonators and 8.17 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive, to propagate the explosion.
The 14 detonators were connected to a detonation circuit that integrated a 12 volt/60 amp battery. Two switches served as current controllers for connecting and disconnecting the circuit. In order for the explosive device to be detonated, the switches would have had to have been in the connected position. Passage of a current through the circuit would have exploded the device.”
Immediately after the truck’s contents became known Thai police, military and intelligence services began a massive hunt for the would-be perpetrators. They were reportedly joined by Israeli and American anti-terrorists specialists. Investigators established that on August 19, 1993, two foreigners inquired about renting a house at No. 7/176 in the Sinthani Avenue housing project on Sukhaphiban 1 Road in Bangkok’s Bungkum district. On the following day they signed a contract and the rent was fixed at 15,000 baht per month for a period of one year. A 32,000 baht deposit was paid on the day the contract was signed.
Following the discovery of the bomb materials and the dead man, the story surrounding the minor traffic accident quickly developed into front-page news. Bangkokians thanked their lucky stars and Boonserm became an instant hero. The case also got a lot of attention from top officials including Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, Army Chief General Wimol Wongwanich, Interior Minister General Chavalit Yongchayoot and National Police Chief General Pratin Santiprapob.
He immediately ordered increased security at embassies, including these of the Israel and the United States, international schools and other locations where foreigners congregate such as a synagogue. The General also asked the media to refrain from naming certain Middle-Eastern countries as sponsoring the planned attack because it could damage relations between Thailand and friendly countries.
Because the accident took place near the Israeli embassy, which was then located on one-way Lang Suan Road, many officials and media sources speculated this was the target, but some analysts said it could just as easily have been the US embassy only a few hundred metres away. Moreover, the blasts in Buenos Aires and London which targeted Israeli interests in July of that year gave sway to the theory that the Israeli embassy was the target.
Explosives experts said the bomb would have completely destroyed the Israeli embassy compound, which was described as a “fortress”, and caused extensive damage to all buildings within a two-kilometre radius of the compound and a tremendous loss of life.
At approximately 10am on March 8, 1994, four employees of Ekachat water tank distributors delivered two tanks to the house. A police report says a search of the house yielded 52 objects of interest, including a large water tank identical to the one found in the truck. Other evidence included a pair of black rubber gloves, 28 bags of fertiliser, an electric soldering device and a piece of tarp the same colour and texture as the tarp that covered the back of the truck and that Chom’s body was wrapped in.
the story surrounding the minor traffic accident quickly developed into front-page news
Following an extensive investigation, on May 26, 1994 the Thai police issued arrest warrants for Hossein Shahriarifar (age 25, alias Housein Dastgiri), and Mohammadi Lotfollah, both believed to be Iranian nationals, in connection with the case.
On June 2, police arrested Shahriarifar, along with Babak Taheri and Basr Kazemi in the southern Thai town of Hat Yai on suspicion of making the truck bomb. Taheri and Kazemi were released on August 16 because of a lack of evidence against them. Lotfollah apparently fled the country.
On Aug 18, 1996 Shahriarifar pleaded not guilty in South Bangkok Criminal Court to charges including murder, possession of explosives and complicity in an attempt to blow up the Israeli embassy in Bangkok. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced to death, but the Supreme Court overturned the verdict because testimonies from eyewitnesses failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the driver of the truck carrying the bomb.
During the trial Attorney General Opas Arunin presented witnesses who claimed they saw Dastgiri [Shahriarifar] and driver Chom together purchase the water tank that was used to conceal the bomb. Six witnesses reportedly picked Dastgiri out of a lineup. Nevertheless, Shahriarifar was released from the prison on February 19, 1998, leaving many to ask whether justice had been served.
In the end it was probably Boonserm’s efforts to obtain justice for himself from the truck’s driver that spared Bangkok from tragedy. In the Bangkok Post interview Boonserm also said he was still angry that the shiny motorcycle he had bought just two months before and was making 2,800 baht monthly installments on was severely damaged, but he was happy that the accident prevented the terrorists from carrying out their plan. “I am glad I was able to help save many lives. I believe the spirit of the dead driver also helped,” Boonserm said.
THE narrow escape from a large-scale act of international terrorism shocked the nation. In 1994 a car or truck bomb set off by foreign nationals was an almost unthinkable scenario in Thailand. Since that time there have been car and motorcycle bombs successfully detonated in southern Thailand by separatist insurgents, although the bombs have fortunately been much less powerful than the one concealed in the truck that rammed Boonserm’s motorcycle.
The first car bomb ever set off in Thailand was near the Marina Hotel in the border town of Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province on the evening of Feb 21, 2005. The explosion killed five people and injured more than 40. Bombs housed in stolen passenger cars, pickup trucks and motorcycles bombs continue to be detonated remotely in southern Thailand. There have been no reports of suicide bombers.
In 1999, five years after the incident on Chidlom Road, the arrest of Hezbollah
operative Pandu Yudhawitanata in Manila shed new light on the case. Under
interrogation Yudhawitanata, an Indonesian national, allegedly provided a lot of
information on Hezbollah including the terrorist organisation’s cells in Thailand and the role they played in the failed 1994 truck bombing. Among other vital intelligence, investigators learned that Hezbollah was planning attacks against Israeli and American interests in Southeast Asia and in Europe.
Hezbollah ‒ Party of God ‒ is a militant Shia Muslim military, political, and social organisation based in Lebanon, where it was established in 1985. With the backing of Teheran, Hezbollah enjoys considerable power and has been accused of carrying out terrorist activities, including bombings against a number of Jewish and Israeli targets. Hezbollah has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and most other Western countries, as well as Israel, the Arab League and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
One of the Hezbollah operatives fingered by Yudhawitanata was Kuwaiti-born
militant Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing in New York. He and his associates constructed that powerful bomb, placed it in a stolen van and detonated it in the underground garage of the WTC. Six people were killed and over 1,000 injured.
After the bombing he was the most wanted terrorist in the world, but somehow he managed to travel around. Trained in the construction of sophisticated bombs, Yousef arrived in Bangkok in the first part of 1994 and allegedly constructed the truck bomb and coordinated the plot against the Israeli embassy. He is believed to have departed the country before the bomb was discovered.
Yousef was arrested in Pakistan in February 1995 and flown to the United States, where in November 1997 he was found guilty of the WTC bombing and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole, plus 240 years. He is serving his sentence at the ADX prison near Florence, Colorado, the most secure prison in America.
A senior Thai police officer said that the mixture of explosives used in the 1993 WTC bombing was similar to what was found inside the truck bomb in Bangkok and added that he was confident the target was the Israeli embassy. That viewpoint is supported by later events. In the months after the unsuccessful Bangkok attack Hezbollah-linked terrorists successfully attacked Israeli targets in Buenos Aires and London with car bombs.
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a Renault van that was packed with an estimate 300-400 kilograms of explosives outside the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires shortly before 10am on July 18, 1994. The blast killed 85 people plus the bomber and injured over 300. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history. The bomb in Buenos Aires, same as in Bangkok, consisted of an ammonium nitrate fertiliser, fuel oil explosive mixture and was detonated by a suicide bomber. The only difference is that the Bangkok bomb was much bigger.
The two London bombs were smaller in a comparison to the one in Buenos Aires and suicide bombers weren’t used to detonate them. Around midday on July 26, 1994, an Audi 100 packed with 20-30 kilograms of explosives blew up outside the Israeli Embassy in London injuring 20 civilians, fortunately none seriously. Thirteen hours later a bomb concealed in a Triumph Acclaim targeted London’s Balfour House, the head office for several Jewish organisations, including Joint Israel Appeal. The bomb slightly injured six people walking past.
New embassy The near miss with catastrophe in Bangkok prompted the decision to move the Israeli embassy to a more secure location occupying an entire floor of an office building in Sukhumvit. After a year of special construction the new embassy was opened in May 1995 and there it remains. The residence of the ambassador was also moved.