Weapons found at Palestinian mission in Prague where blast killed envoy

Palestinian mission in Prague held stash of unregistered guns, say police probing the mystery explosion of an office safe that killed ambassador

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 10:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 2:18am


Czech police said yesterday they had found enough unregistered weapons to arm a 10-man combat unit at the Prague residence of the Palestinian ambassador who was killed by an exploding safe on New Year's Day.

Czech and Palestinian investigators were probing the death of Jamal al-Jamal, although police in Prague said it appeared to be accidental rather than a terror attack.

"The blast was the result of inexpert handling of an explosive," Prague police chief Martin Vondrasek told public radio.

"I can't say specifically what weapons we have found. We can say they have not been registered in the Czech Republic," he added.

The website of mass circulation Respekt weekly quoted unnamed police sources as saying Jamal had probably mishandled a bomb hidden in the safe at his Prague home.

The blast was the result of inexpert handling of an explosive

It said police had found several automatic rifles and other illegal weapons.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki described the blast as "a work accident".

"The safe was old, and it was made in a way that if it is being opened in a wrong way, an explosive device attached to its door would explode, and this is what happened."

He told Voice of Palestine radio that Jamal had opened the safe "without consulting with anyone" but that no crime had been committed.

But Palestinian embassy spokesman Nabil al-Fahel said the safe was in almost everyday use and "according to our information there was no built-in anti-theft system".

Some safes can be fitted with small charges to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with.

A former Israeli intelligence agency Mossad safe-cracker, who declined to be named, said it was strange that any such mechanism within the safe would cause such damage.

"I think the Palestinian administration should explain many questions related to the explosion," security expert Andor Sandor, the former head of Czech military intelligence, said.

"First, why do they breach the Vienna Convention setting rules for diplomatic relations and activities. Second, why diplomatic immunity is being abused for activities that cannot be considered legal," he said.

"Another question is whether they have more safes like this on Czech territory, in their flats, and who installs such systems there," Sandor added.

Zoulova said it was "definitely not standard to have an arsenal of weapons or explosives in such a building".

"This is a question the police are dealing with within the investigations," she said.

Jamal had only recently moved to the new residence on the northern outskirts of Prague.

Police searched a building next door which also belongs to the Palestinian embassy, but said they had not found any other explosives in the area.

Jamal's 52-year-old wife was taken to another hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. She was released from hospital later on Wednesday.

Jamal was born in Beirut in 1957 to a Palestinian family that had fled Jaffa - near Tel Aviv - after the state of Israel was created in 1948, and moved to the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon. He joined the Fatah party in 1975 and became an aide to the ambassador in Bulgaria four years later.

After working as Palestinian consul to the Egyptian port city of Alexandria from 2005, he was appointed ambassador to the Czech Republic last October.

The Czech Republic is a staunch ally of Israel, and when Jamal arrived in Prague he had to ask the outspoken Czech President Milos Zeman to correct his suggestion that the Czech embassy in Israel should move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The suggestion that Jerusalem is the true capital of Israel is unthinkable for most Palestinians, who claim rights to the eastern part of the city. During the 1980s, the PLO had close ties with the Eastern bloc countries.

But Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs veteran and leading official in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that in recent years, relations have been tense.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press