EXCLUSIVE - New York police link nine 2012 plots to Iran, proxies

LONDON Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:15pm IST

Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran in this September 22, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran in this September 22, 2011 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - New York police believe Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies have been involved so far this year in nine plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world, according to restricted police documents obtained by Reuters.

Reports prepared this week by intelligence analysts for the New York Police Department (NYPD) say three plots were foiled in January, three in February and another three since late June. Iran has repeatedly denied supporting militant attacks abroad.

The documents, labelled "Law Enforcement Sensitive," said that this week's suicide bomb attack in Bulgaria was the second plot to be unmasked there this year.

The reports detail two plots in Bangkok and one each in New Delhi, Tbilisi, Baku, Mombasa and Cyprus. Each plot was attributed to Iran or its Lebanese Hezbollah militant allies, said the reports, which were produced following the bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria of a bus carrying Israeli tourists.

Iran on Thursday dismissed "unfounded statements" by Israel linking Tehran to the Burgas blast, saying they were politically motivated accusations which underscored the weakness of the accusers.

Wednesday's bombing in the Black Sea city is listed in a document headed "Suspected Iranian and/or Hezbollah-linked Plots Against Israeli or Jewish Targets: 2012 Chronology", the latest of the nine 2012 plots linked to the Islamic Republic or its proxies.

U.S. officials say they increasingly concur with Israeli assessments that Iran and its proxies organised the killing of seven Israeli tourists in Burgas by a suicide bomber after they boarded an airport bus.

One U.S. official said Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militia, had in the past carried out suicide bombings.

Hezbollah says that while it carried out suicide bombings against Israeli army posts in south Lebanon when it was occupied, until 2000, it has never staged attacks outside Lebanon.

The U.S. official noted that the Burgas bombing occurred on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which Argentina linked to Iran.

The official said the Bulgaria attack appeared relatively sophisticated as it suggested those behind it had gathered intelligence on possible targets in advance.

MORE PLOTS, SOPHISTICATION VARIES

A second U.S. official said U.S. federal authorities' tally of alleged Iran-linked plots in 2012 largely paralleled the NYPD list.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in the past year there had been "20 Iranian attempts at terrorist attacks abroad, in which there was direct involvement of five Iranians, two Hezbollah operatives".

After the Bulgaria bus bombing, a senior U.S. law enforcement official said New York police had increased their counter-terrorism focus on Jewish neighborhoods and institutions, over concerns of Iranian attacks on U.S. soil should U.S. or Israeli tensions with Iran escalate.

In a two-page paper summarizing its assessment of the alleged pattern of Iranian-related plots this year, NYPD analysts said that through its own Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, Iran had "sharply increased its operational tempo and its willingness to conduct terrorist attacks targeting Israeli interests and the International Jewish community worldwide".

But the paper noted that many of this year's plots lacked the sophistication and precision that characterised earlier plots linked to Iran.

Some bombs used in the recent plots shared certain features such as the use of military grade plastic explosives and magnets to attach the device to metal targets. While some had been detonated by remote control, others had relied on the "crude but effective tactic of pulling the pin on a hand grenade."

The summary said the plotters had on occasion used local criminal elements, citing a plot in Baku where Iranian Revolutionary Guards agents provided weapons, equipment and selected the target for attack by Azeri criminals.

"This is an extremely dangerous combination," the report concluded, adding that the geographic spread of the attacks and the willingness to go with less sophisticated plots "may add to the danger rather than lessen it." (Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Jon Boyle and Mark Heinrich)

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