Weapons found at Palestinian
mission in Prague
by Reuters, jpost.com, Jan. 2, 2014
Unknown number of unregistered weapons found at Palestinian mission; officials say mishandling of explosive device killed Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal.
PRAGUE – Czech investigators found unregistered weapons at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Prague, police said on Thursday, a day after the ambassador was killed in a mysterious explosion after opening a safe.
“We have gathered many pieces of evidence, we secured weapons that will be subject to expert evaluation,” Prague police chief Martin Vondrasek said on Czech Radio.
“We can say the weapons have not gone through a registration process in the Czech Republic,” he said, without revealing the quantity and type.
Police reiterated their belief that the blast on New Year’s Day may have been caused by mishandling an explosive that could have been securing the safe. They have said they are not treating it as an attack or a terrorist incident.
Jamal suffered lethal injuries to his head, chest and abdomen. He had been in Prague only since October.
Embassy spokesman Nabil el-Fahel said the safe was being used on a daily basis to store cash for the mission.
The mission is in the process of moving into a new embassy and residence, which share the same compound. Jamal was killed at the new residence.
Fahel’s account contradicted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, who said the safe had not been used for two decades or more, possibly going back to the time when the Palestine Liberation Organisation maintained a mission in Prague.
Some safes can be fitted with small charges to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with. But Fahel said embassy staff were not aware that any explosive mechanism was attached to the safe that Jamal opened.
He later said on Czech Television he had no information on weapons being seized by police. But a Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the mission’s staff in Prague had submitted the weapons to Czech authorities.
He did not elaborate on the type of weapons involved, but said they had been retrieved from an old sack and had been untouched since Cold War times.
The Vienna Convention, which covers diplomatic relations between states, does not set out arrangements for diplomats holding weapons.
The Czech Foreign Ministry said diplomats’ weapons were subject to local laws on arms, which require registration and licensing. This suggests that if the weapons were unregistered, they were illegal.
The ministry said it was not changing its position on the Palestinian mission in the country. “We can hardly draw any conclusions from partial results and findings,” spokeswoman Johana Grohova said.
Communist Czechoslovakia maintained friendly relations with the PLO in the 1980s, but the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member country, has been supportive of Israel.
Earlier in the day, officials said the safe that exploded at the Palestinian residence, killing the ambassador, was used almost daily for storing cash, and embassy staff were not aware of any explosive safety device in it, the embassy spokesman said on Thursday.
Czech police on Wednesday ruled out what they called a “terrorist attack” and said the likely cause was that a safety device that was part of the safe blew up.
However, embassy spokesman Nabil el Fahel told Reuters that embassy staff were not aware of any explosive device connected to the safe – adding further confusion to an already murky incident.
“According to our information there was not (an explosive safety mechanism), none of us knew there was any device like that,” he said.
He also denied information in the media from Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki who said the safe had not been used for two decades or more – which could link it to aPalestine Liberation Organisation mission in Prague in the 1980s.
“The safe was being used almost daily for depositing money … used for salaries of embassy staff, for buying items for daily operations,” Fahel said. “Minister Malki had mistakenly spoken about a second safe … that was empty and almost never used.”
Czech police said they were examining the safe, which could take several days.
Some safes can be fitted with small charges to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with.
Former Czech military intelligence chief Andor Sandor told Reuters available information indicated it may be an accident or an attack of a private rather than political nature.
Born in Beirut to a refugee family, Jamal joined Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction of the PLO in 1975 and served in its missions to Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s. He only took his Prague post in October.
Communist Czechoslovakia maintained friendly relations with the PLO in the 1980s, but since the 1989 collapse of communist rule the EU and NATO member country has been supportive of Israel.