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#1 Yervant1


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Posted 19 December 2015 - 10:51 AM




The Bangkok Post (Thailand)
December 13, 2015 Sunday

One of four Syrians suspected of having links to the Islamic State has
a decade-long connection to Thailand and has appeared in commercials
for ice-cream, yoghurt and a TV serie.

Hagop Kassabian said he was surprised to be named in national media
as one of the Syrians that Russia's state security agency had warned
could have links to the terrorist organisation.

Mr Kassabian said he was very happy living in Thailand, where he runs
a small trading company from the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum.

He is also an actor and has appeared nationwide in television
commercials opposite stars such as James Jirayu Tangsrisuk and Urassaya
Yaya Sperbund.

His wife is Thai and they have three young children. His eldest son is
named Muang Thai, or Thailand. It shows my love for Thailand, he said.

He told the Bangkok Post Sunday he first learned he was a suspect on
the morning of Dec 6, when his wife Phatcharin Phirmokit showed him
a news item on her mobile phone.

My wife woke me up and told me I was a terrorist. She said: 'All
these years and I didn't know you are a terrorist.'

Mr Kassabian said he was perplexed, and asked: Darling, did you have
a dream?

It's in the news, his wife told him. She then showed him what was on
her mobile phone. My picture was prominently displayed, along with
three other guys, and I don't have any idea who they are.

Ms Phatcharin, who is in her late thirties, was told by her brother
who lives in Dubai that news reports said Mr Kassabian was among four
people suspected of being involved with the IS. The news report said
Russian authorities had asked Thailand to hunt down the IS suspects,
who were hiding in Thailand after overstaying their visas. Then I
thought I would become notorious overnight. News travels at the speed
of light.

"Shortly afterwards, my friends all over the world contacted me and
asked 'when did you join IS?'

During an interview with the Bangkok Post Sunday, Mr Kassabian said
the allegations were wrong and he was not the type to be recruited
by IS. The 57-year-old grew up in Lebanon from the age of one, after
his father died - and his mother is Lebanese. But more importantly,
he is Armenian Orthodox, a form of Christianity.

IS does not recruit Christians. They kill Christians, he said. Armenia
was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion in
the fourth century after Christ.

If these guys knew the background of the IS and me, they would not
have even thought about putting out my photo [in the media], said the
businessman, who earned a master's degree at the American University
in Beirut.

Whoever put my photo in the paper has not done their homework well.

However, Thai police took the allegations seriously and a few days
later senior officers were quoted in the international media, saying
they had been warned by Moscow that 10 Syrians working for the IS
had entered Thailand in October to target Russians.

After learning he was on the list of wanted Syrians, he decided he had
to act. I thought, what should we do now? If I go out, the police will
catch me. The right thing to do is to call the police. So, we called
the police and said we are here. There are some misunderstandings.

Police went to his home that evening and after a short conversation
cleared Mr Kassabian of the allegation.

He has since asked a lawyer to find out why his photo was put on the
list of suspects, and if he can take the person who implicated him
to court.

It is my responsibility to clear myself of the charge, to correct
the bad, notorious reputation I have acquired, he said.

The news caused panic where he lives with his family in the small
community of Sompoi village, even though most people there know Mr
Kassabian. His wife comes from the village of about 300 residents,
and after being in Thailand for five years, the family moved there
about one year ago.

Saisawad Khambao, the village head, said: I was surprised. I have
known him and his family for years. But some in the neighbourhood
were concerned. Some believed what they read in the news.

Asked if the villagers now know Mr Kassabian is innocent, Mrs Saisawad
said: Some have read the updated news that he is innocent. But I am
not certain if all of them understand he is not a terrorist.

Mr Kassabian married Ms Phatcharin 10 years ago. They met when he was
a marketing manager at a Dubai-based multinational company. During
that time he had to travel to Thailand frequently. After they married,
they lived in Dubai, where their three children were born.

The couple came back to Bangkok five years ago and started their
own company called Food Bangkok Co in his wife's home province of
Chaiyaphum. Food Bangkok exports products to the Middle East.

Many people in Thailand have seen Mr Kassabian in TV commercials.

In a television commercial for a yoghurt brand he played a Bulgarian,
saying confirm to heartthrob actor Jirayu Tangsrisuk, who asked if
the yoghurt was Bulgarian.

He also appeared with A-list actress Yaya in an ice-cream commercial on
television. Earlier this year he appeared in a TV serie called Malee,
or My Safari Girl in English.

Ms Phatcharin said she never doubted her husband. I know it was a
big misunderstanding. You can see he does not look like a terrorist.

Mr Kassabian is short and plump and looks more like Santa Claus than
a militant. He likes playing piano during his free time.

The misunderstanding may have come from his overstayed visa, which he
said he simply forgot to renew two years ago. He has a non-B visa. His
children all carry Thai passports.

My overstay was two years ago due to the fact that the company I was
working with did not inform me in due time to renew my visa.

"What does this fact have to do with terrorism? he asked.

When asked what he thought of IS, Mr Kassabian said it was the outcome
of wrong calculations by superpowers which is what we have now in
the Middle East.

Although the authorities have cleared his name, Mr Kassabian said
the damage is already done. The man once known for his television
commercials is now called IS Sompoi.

When I picked up my boys from school, people stared at me and said,
'This is the guy. Don't approach. Do you plan to do any bombing? There
is a terrorist in the village. What should we do?'

Mr Kassabian said he did not find it amusing. But I will let them
have their fun. I am a kind-hearted person.



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