What started out as a sad story about the tragic death of a young diplomat may turn out to be a warning not to young diplomats, but to countries which host them.
On Wednesday, Jan. 1, an explosion went off in the home of Jamal al-Jamal, the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic. Al-Jamal was severely injured by the blast. He received lethal wounds to his abdomen, head and chest, and died within hours at a local hospital. Jamal’s residence was located in the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Prague. Those facts are not in dispute.
But how Jamal was killed remains a question. The initial story was that he must have triggered a safety device meant to destroy classified documents if an unauthorized person opened the safe. In fact, if you check the stories in the mainstream media reports about Jamal’s death, you would be confident that Jamal mistakenly triggered a safety device on on old safe.
But there were conflicting reports about the safe Jamal had just opened when the blast occurred.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said it was an old safe that if “opened in a wrong way, an explosive device attached to its door would explode, and this is what happened.”
But the Palestinian embassy spokesman, Nabil al-Fahel, explained to media outlets that the safe was in use on a daily basis. It was used, he said, for salaries for embassy staff and for buying items for daily operations.
“Minister Malki had mistakenly spoken,” Fahel said, “according to our information there was no built-in anti-theft system.”
Czech authorities said that explosives and other weapons were found at the Palestinian embassy, which they said was “a possible breach of diplomatic rules.”
“We can say the weapons have not gone through a registration process in the Czech Republic,” Prague police chief Martin Vondrasek said on Czech Radio.
One report quoted by other sources said that “automatic rifles” and “other illegal weapons that could arm a 10-man combat unit” were found at the residence, but officials refused to comment on those statements.
What officials did say, however, was almost as alarming.
CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS OPENED BY CZECHS OVER WEAPONS ARSENAL IN EMBASSY
Prague police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova told reporters following the story that what was found in the Palestinian diplomat’s building has launchedcriminal proceedings into negligent homicide and illegal arms possession. Zoulova said it was “definitely not standard to have an arsenal of weapons or explosives in such a building,” according to the AFP.
Al-Jamal became the ambassador to the Czech Republic only weeks ago, on Oct. 11. The entire Palestinian mission had only recently moved into the building in the Prague suburb.
The Czech Republic has hosted a diplomatic mission from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1981, when it was the capital of Czechoslovakia. The mission was upgraded to an embassy in 1988.
The embassy was not yet open for business in its new location. According to the Prague Post, the new Palestinian diplomatic complex was in a brand-new building, so new that the final inspection had not yet taken place nor was the use permit yet issued. Jamal had only slept two nights at the residence before the explosion occurred.
Despite the nearly universal agreement that the explosion which caused Jamal’s death was an accident, most likely the misuse of some sort of explosive, the diplomat’s daughter claims her father was assassinated.
“I think the Palestinian administration should explain many questions related to the explosion,” security expert Andor Sandor, the former head of Czech military intelligence, told AFP.
But Sandor said he considered a terror attack “very unlikely.”
So far only the daughter of the diplomat has claimed Jamal’s death was anything other than an accident. But the confirmed presence of illegal weapons in the embassy, and the official debunking of the doubletalk about the explosion either being from an anti-theft trigger or something that was a relic of the old PLO days raise alternative possibilities.
Perhaps the deadly explosion in Prague will encourage host countries to inspect the diplomatic complexes of quasi-governments with long records of explicit acts of, and support for, terrorism.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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