updated 8/25/2006 9:35:27 AM ET 2006-08-25T13:35:27

Authorities charged an army lieutenant after defusing a powerful bomb hidden inside his car as he drove near Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s home Thursday, and the Thai leader said he has known for two weeks about an alleged plot to take his life.

Thaksin said he knew who was behind the alleged plan to kill him but that he would not name the masterminds publicly. However, he fired the deputy head of a key intelligence agency, a military general who police said employed the suspect as his driver. The sacked general alleged the plot was fabricated by Thaksin himself.

“I learned about the plot to harm me and my family two weeks ago. My family and I are being more cautious for the time being,” Thaksin told reporters. “I know the people who are behind the plot but I cannot say who they are. It is the duty of investigators to find out.”

The suspect, Lt. Thawatchai Klinchana, is an officer with the Internal Operations Security Command, said police Lt. Gen. Montree Jamroon at a news conference. Thawatchai was charged with illegal possession of an explosive device and Montree said more charges would be brought as the investigation continued.

PM target of protests
Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana said Tuesday he had intelligence about a plot to harm the prime minister, who has been the target of peaceful protests since late last year. Thaksin has been accused of corruption and abuse of power.

The dissent has resulted in an ongoing political impasse, bitter divisions in Thai society and legal entanglements. An October election could put the country back on course, some analysts say.

Col. Kosol Ngampramuan, chief of the police bomb squad, said Thawatchai had driven his car back and forth near Thaksin’s home until a security guard notified police. Thawatchai was arrested after trying to flee.

Kosol said 148 pounds of ammonium nitrate, 10 pounds of TNT and 3.5 pounds of C-4 explosive were found in the car. The bomb was capable of causing damage within a radius of more than a half a mile and would have destroyed everything within a 164- to 328-foot radius.

Lt. Gen. Jumphon Manmai, chief of the National Intelligence Bureau, said the powerful bomb was primed for an explosion.

“From investigating the path that the car took, we believe it was intended to assassinate the prime minister,” he said.

Officer claims innocence
Government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said Thaksin reacted calmly to the report of the bomb but fired Gen. Pallop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, because Thawatchai had served under him.

Thaksin later said he fired Pallop “because the position is not necessary now.” He did not elaborate.

During the interrogation, Thawatchai admitted he had been a driver for Pallop but did not confess to trying to bomb Thaksin’s home, police said.

In a fiery news conference, Pallop said Thawatchai was once his driver but now does intelligence work for him. Pallop denied that the two had plotted to kill Thaksin.

“I was once the head of a death squad” for the military, Pallop said. “If I wanted to harm the prime minister, I am certain that the prime minister could not have escaped from me.”

On Friday, Pallop said the explosive device was not wired to go off and questioned why the driver drove past the house several times instead of triggering the explosive.

“I think Thaksin cooked the thing up to damage me,” Pallop said, noting his connection with Chamlong Srimuang, a key leader in months of street protests earlier this year against Thaksin.

Surapong insisted Friday the assassination attempt was real.

“This is not a set up or a cooked-up story. The assassination plot was serious. If the story was cooked up, police would not have been able to arrest the culprit,” he said.

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