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Thai bomb squad officials inspect the site of an explosion in Bangkok in February 2012. File photo: AFP

Thailand approves transfer of three Iranians linked to botched 2012 Bangkok bombing

  • The bomb plot was exposed in 2012 when an accidental explosion blew apart the Bangkok villa where the three men were staying
  • Thailand’s move came as Tehran released British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in exchange for three Iranians held abroad
Thai officials said on Thursday they approved the transfer back to Tehran of three Iranians who were involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot, as Iran released a 33-year-old Australian academic who was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges.
Thai officials did not go so far as to call it a prisoner swap or say what involvement Australia might have had in the arrangement. Iranian state TV said Tehran released British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert in exchange for three Iranians held abroad.
Chatchom Akapin, Thailand’s deputy attorney general, said that Thai authorities had approved the transfer of the prisoners under an agreement with Iran.

“These types of transfers aren’t unusual,” he said. “We transfer prisoners to other countries and at the same time receive Thais back under this type of agreement all the time.”

Tehran released British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert in exchange for three Iranians held abroad. Photo: Iranian State Television via AP

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “thrilled and relieved” that Moore-Gilbert had been released but added it would take time for her to process her “horrible” ordeal.

Flight data obtained by the AP showed the plane filmed on the tarmac at the Tehran airport had this week twice flown from Bangkok to Tehran, and then on to Doha, Qatar.

The plane’s tail number links it to an Australian private air carrier called Skytraders, which describes itself as a “principal provider of air services to government.” An employee at the company declined to comment.

The bomb plot of the three Iranians was exposed in 2012 when an accidental explosion blew apart the Bangkok villa where they were staying. Israeli and Thai officials have said the plot was aimed at Israeli diplomats in Bangkok – though Iran denied the allegations and the men were never charged with terrorism.

Iranian Mohammad Kharzei (centre) arrives at the Bangkok South Criminal Court in February 2012. File photo: EPA

Two of the men, Saeid Moradi and Mohammad Kharzei, were convicted in Thailand in 2013. Moradi, 29, was sentenced to life for attempting to murder a police officer, while Kharzei was sentenced to 15 years for possessing explosives.

Moradi, a factory technician from Tehran and a former soldier, lost parts of both legs as he tried to flee the villa on a crowded Bangkok street. He was carrying explosives from the house and dropped them in the street as police tried to stop him.

The third suspect, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, 31, was detained in Malaysia. In 2017, a federal court there ordered his extradition to Thailand.

Israeli officials on Thursday had no immediate comment on the release of the Iranians.

Iran’s report of the prisoner swap was scant on detail, saying only that the Iranians had been imprisoned for trying to bypass sanctions on Tehran.

British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert freed by Iran

Morrison said he had spoken with Moore-Gilbert on Thursday.

“The tone of her voice was very uplifting, particularly given what she has been through,” he told Australia’s Network Nine.

Asked about the swap, Morrison said he “wouldn’t go into those details, confirm them one way or the other” but said he could assure Australians there had been nothing done to prejudice their safety and no prisoners were released in Australia.

In a statement, Moore-Gilbert thanked Australia’s government and diplomats for securing her release, as well as supporters who campaigned for her freedom.

Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was picked up at the Tehran airport as she tried to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018. She was sent to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years. She had vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.