Prague gripped by mystery of Palestinian envoy killed by ‘exploding safe’

Ambassador’s daughter rejects official claim that New Year’s Day blast was an accident

Investigators are seen through the windows at the scene of a blast at the residence of Palestinian ambassador Jamal al-Jamal in Prague. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Investigators are seen through the windows at the scene of a blast at the residence of Palestinian ambassador Jamal al-Jamal in Prague. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 01:00


The Czech Republic has been gripped by a mystery straight from the pages of a thriller: the tale of an exploding safe, a dead Palestinian ambassador and an illegal cache of weapons at a Prague embassy.

On New Year’s Day, Jamal al-Jamal and his wife were in the Palestinian diplomatic residence in Prague’s quiet Suchdol district.

They had arrived in the Czech capital only in October and were busy moving the Palestinian embassy to a new building in a compound that it shares with the residence. The ambassador knew Prague well, however, having served in the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s mission to Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, when Yasser Arafat’s group had close ties to the Soviet bloc.

“The safe was emptied and moved to the house. My father had been putting documents inside it and it was open,” said Mr al-Jamal’s daughter Rana.

“The explosion took place while he used it.”

The ambassador was rushed to hospital, but died the same day of massive injuries to his head, chest and stomach.

“The police have been working on the version that an explosive system was placed in the safe,” said police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova.

“The question is what it was doing there,” she added, while denying that Mr al-Jamal had been killed by a bomb.

“The evidence the police have doesn’t suggest anything like a terror attack or that a specific person would set up a system with the intention to hurt or kill anyone.”


‘Accident’
The Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, described the blast as an “accident” and said Mr al-Jamal had triggered the safe’s explosive security mechanism.

“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 said.

That account was swiftly contradicted, however, by an embassy spokesman who said there was no such device on a safe that “was opened and closed almost every day”.

Rana al-Jamal said her mother had also told her that the safe was “in regular use”.

“The Palestinian official account is baseless,” the ambassador’s daughter said.

“We believe my father was killed and that his death was something arranged and not an accident. How? We do not know and that is what we want to know.”

Palestinian investigators are expected to fly to Prague to assist in the investigation into the death of Mr al-Jamal (56), a career diplomat who had also worked in Bulgaria and Egypt.


Weapons cache
Questions surrounding the Prague mission have only deepened since his death, however, with the discovery and confiscation of a cache of unspecified weapons at the embassy.

Czech media outlets have claimed the haul includes dozens of unregistered guns.

Petr Hejl, mayor of Suchdol, said local people had “lost trust” in and “felt deceived” by the Palestinian diplomats, and wanted them to leave the area.