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Security fears rise after Indonesia arrest

The Royal Thai Police (RTP) has issued a secret order to police nationwide to keep an eye out for spies from Iran believed to be in the region after one was arrested in Indonesia, prompting security fears, a police source said.

The source told the Bangkok Post that security agencies are closely monitoring the movement of Iranian nationals and some Thai Muslims who are suspected to be working as spies in Thailand.

National police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk is said to have issued an order to the RTP’s Special Branch, the Central Investigation Bureau, the Metropolitan Police Bureau and all nine Provincial Police Regions to be on alert and gather intelligence about the movements of secret agents.

The order cited an incident on May 24, last year when Indonesian authorities were tipped off that a man named Ghassem Saberi Gilchalan arrived in the country carrying a Bulgarian passport which was later found to be fake, the source said.

On May 27, last year, the man was arrested by Indonesian authorities at Soekarno–Hatta International Airport just before departing for Qatar.

The man allegedly told police that he had used a fake passport to enter the country. Indonesian police found that he entered the country more than 10 times using false papers and a court sentenced him to two years in jail for the offences.

Indonesian police also found that the man had 11 mobile phones, one tablet computer, a number of SIM cards and cash worth more than 320,000 baht, the source added.

A check on his mobile phones found the names of some Thai Muslims, the source said, adding that Indonesian authorities believe Gilchalan is a spy from Iran.0

After further interrogation, Gilchalan told police that he had been given several assignments by a former Iranian diplomat in Malaysia to act as a spy both there and in Indonesia several times.

The latest attempt involved lobbying Indonesian authorities to release the Iranian-flagged MT Horse oil tanker apprehended in the country’s waters in January last year.

The man also set up a company as a front in Bali which was used as a safe house for his covert operations, the source said.

“The exposure of Gilchalan has caused a stir among several countries which are worrying about Iran’s secret operations and spies, which are perceived to be a national security threat by each country.

“Such operations may also be taking place in Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand,” the source said.

Gilchalan and the former diplomat had visited Thailand several times, and also met prominent Shi’ite Thai Muslims who have close ties with Iran.

“In light of this, it is possible that spies from Iran may also be engaging in secret operations in Thailand using fake passports and some Thais are also suspected of working as spies with financial aid or other kinds of support,” the source said.

“There have been concerns over Thailand’s hosting of the Apec Summit [in November] which will be attended by world leaders. Security arrangements will be given top priority.

“We can’t afford to let any unrest or violence happen,” the source said, adding authorities wanted to avoid a repeat of the Sukhumvit 71 explosion of February 2012.

On that occasion three Iranian men were arrested and jailed in connection with a bomb believed to have gone off prematurely at a rented house in the area.

In November 2020, two of the Iranian prisoners, Masoud Seda­ghatzadeh and Saeid Moradi, were sent home to serve out their sentences under a bilateral agreement while the third, Mohammad Khazaei was granted a royal pardon in August of that year.

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