BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court on Wednesday convicted a Lebanese man with alleged links to Hezbollah militants for illegal possession of bomb-making materials that he was storing in a warehouse outside Bangkok.
Atris Hussein, who also holds Swedish nationality, was arrested Jan 12, 2012, at Bangkok's main airport after a tip-off from Israeli police, who claimed he was going to stage a terrorist attack in Thailand. After being questioned, Hussein led police to a warehouse with hundreds of boxes containing more than 2,800 kilograms (6,200 pounds) of liquid ammonium nitrate and 8,800 pounds (4,000 kilograms) of urea fertilizer, both of which can be used to make explosives.
The court convicted and sentenced Hussein to two years and eight months in prison for illegal possession of the ammonium nitrate, which is a banned substance under Thailand's Weapons Act. It did not convict him for possession of the fertilizer, which is not an illegal substance. He will serve about one more year of the term due to time already spent behind bars.
The United States welcomed the verdict, and said the large quantity of explosive uncovered by Thai authorities demonstrated the global reach of Hezbollah.
But after the verdict, the 49-year-old Hussein — his legs in chains — told reporters he was "happy" with the ruling. His lawyer said they plan to appeal.
Hussein has claimed innocence in the case and denies any links to Hezbollah. He has said he was probably framed by Israel's Mossad spy agency.
In an interview last year with a Swedish newspaper, Hussein said that he was involved in a business that exported a variety of goods from Thailand to other countries, including Lebanon. The products included fans, copy machine paper and frozen gel packs used for pain relief, he said.
"There is ammonium in these packs. That's all there is to it. We never traded with fertilizer. It must have been placed there by someone, probably Mossad," Hussein said told Aftonbladet newspaper.
In its verdict, the court said Hussein's claims "did not hold weight" because he showed no proof of any trading transactions that a normal business would have.
"The defendant was involved in the process of transferring, packing and handling the materials ... so it is considered that he was the owner of the material," the judges said in their verdict.
Hussein said he moved to Sweden in 1989 and became a Swedish citizen five years later. He said he worked in the country as a hairdresser before moving back to Lebanon in 2005.
His arrest in Thailand was linked to warnings by the United States and Israel of a possible terror threat in Bangkok, coming at a time of heightened tension over U.S. and Israeli responses to the prospect that Iran was moving ahead with its nuclear program.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf praised Thai law enforcers for disrupting a "potentially deadly plot which could have killed or injured innocent civilians." She said Hezbollah had been storing thousands of pounds of explosive material in the warehouse, enough for multiple attacks.
"Today's verdict illustrates once again, the global reach of Hezbollah's terrorist arm and demonstrates why countries around the world need to remain vigilant about their activities," Harf told reporters.
Police testified that they had received a tip-off from Israeli authorities that Hussein had suspected links to pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants and was preparing to stage a terrorist attack at a key location in Thailand.
Thai police have said Hussein's case was unrelated to a botched bomb plot in Bangkok that was exposed on Feb. 14, 2012, shortly after his arrest. In that case, which also wrapped up recently, an accidental explosion blew apart a Bangkok home where a group of Iranians were staying.
A court last month sentenced one of the Iranians to life in prison and his compatriot to 15 years in jail for possession of illegal explosives and other charges for the plot that officials say was aimed at Israeli diplomats in Bangkok.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.