Diplomat's daughter says Prague death suspicious
By KAREL JANICEK | The Associated Press | Published: January 3, 2014
PRAGUE — The mystery behind a booby-trapped safe that exploded and killed the Palestinian ambassador in Prague deepened Thursday with the diplomat's daughter rejecting accounts given by a Palestinian official and suggesting there could be more to the story.
Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, 56, died Wednesday of massive injuries when an old embassy safe exploded. The career diplomat had only started his posting in October.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Wednesday the safe had been inside the offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization since the 1980s, and that it had been left untouched for more than 20 years. He also said no foul play was suspected.
But on Thursday, Palestinian Embassy spokesman Nabil El-Fahel contradicted Malki's statement when he told Czech radio that the safe had been in constant use.
There was no immediate explanation for the contradiction, but it raised an important question: If the safe had been in constant use, why didn't it explode before al-Jamal opened it?
"The Palestinian official account is baseless," the ambassador's daughter, 30-year-old Rana Al-Jamal, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Ramallah in the West Bank. "The safe box has been in regular use — my mom (who lives there) told me that. The box was moved a day earlier and apparently something happened in the way."
"We, the family, believe it is a crime, and we need to find out what happened."
She did not elaborate on what she thought may have occurred.
Police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova said it appeared that the door of the safe had been booby-trapped, but it was unclear how al-Jamal tried to open it or what type of safe it was. It was also unclear what caused the safe to explode.
Zoulova told the AP on Thursday that nothing had been found to suggest the diplomat had been a victim of a crime, but she declined to elaborate.
Weapons, however, were found and were considered illegal because they were not registered, Zoulova said. It was unclear what type of weapons were found at the complex.
The country's counterintelligence service, BIS, said the death didn't appear suspicious. Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok called the death "an unfortunate and tragic event."
The safe was recently moved from the old embassy building, but it had come from a building that used to house the PLO's offices in the 1980s, Malki said.
The PLO had offices in Prague in 1976 but it obtained diplomatic status in 1983 when it was officially recognized.
During the Cold War — before the fall of the Soviet Union — the PLO had close ties with the Eastern bloc countries.
Several members of the PLO were linked to terror attacks during the Cold War.
Pavel Kolar, the head of Prague's Institute of Criminology, said Thursday that their investigation would take several days at least.
The death was being investigated as a case of negligence and possession of illegal armaments.
The embassy recently moved to a new complex, and the safe was in the ambassador's residence.
A team of Palestinian experts is expected to participate in the investigation.
Security analyst Andor Sandor said it would be unusual to protect embassy documents with a booby-trapped device.
During their search, police discovered one more safe at the embassy complex but no explosives were found.