Indian police to visit Iran to probe attack targeting Israeli diplomats in New Delhi

By Rama Lakshmi

An Indian police team will visit Tehran this month as part of an investigation into the role of three Iranians suspected of carrying out a bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat’s car in New Delhi in February, a police official said Thursday.

The three-man team will seek information on the suspects’ movements, “when they left the country, when they returned, where they went, their phone records and financial transactions,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. “We have some information here. We will get what the Iranian officials will provide. It will help us connect the dots.”

The investigation has posed a diplomatic dilemma for India as it tries to balance its long-standing ties with Iran and its growing closeness to Israel and the United States. Indian officials had initially played down Israel’s assertion that Iran was behind the bombings, but mounting evidence from phone records and money transfers has made it more difficult to do so.

In the Feb. 13 attack in New Delhi, motorcyclists slapped a sticky bomb on an Israeli Embassy car, injuring the wife of a diplomat and her driver. Israeli officials immediately accused Iran and linked the bombing to two attempted attacks — one in Georgia the same day and another in Thailand the following day.

An Iranian suspected in the Bangkok attack was arrested in Malaysia the next day. Indian investigators accused three Iranians and an Indian freelance journalist of involvement in the attack in New Delhi. In March, police traced phone calls made by one of the alleged Thailand bombers to the Indian journalist, who was arrested in New Delhi.

The three Iranian suspects remain at large and are thought by police to be in Iran.

It is not known whether Iranian security officials will help track down and provide India with access to the suspects or whether India will demand their extradition. Analysts say India is attempting to air its security concerns without tilting its foreign policy. Its ties with Tehran have drawn increasing U.S. scrutiny and figured prominently during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to India this week.

“Iran wants to appear to be cooperating, and we are sending a signal to Iran and saying ‘Do not use India as a battleground for your problems with Israel,’ ” said Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary. “Both the countries have played it very tactfully and intelligently so far.”

Also this week, fresh evidence emerged that the phone number used by the main Iranian suspect, Houshang Afshar Irani, in New Delhi was “in operation” in Georgia last year, according to an investigating officer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Police said Indian investigators are also likely to travel to Malaysia to interrogate the Iranian detainee there, adding that they hope their visits will yield enough evidence to enable them to file formal charges in a city court in June.

But Sibal was not optimistic.

“The evidence against the Iranian nationals was too much and too visible for India to disregard,” he said. “But I doubt that Iran will provide us with any self-incriminating evidence. I don’t see the case reaching its conclusive end.”

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