Palestinian diplomat dies in Prague blast

Firefighters search an area after the explosion in Prague. REUTERS/David W Cerny
Firefighters search an area after the explosion in Prague. REUTERS/David W Cerny
The Palestinian ambassador to Prague has been killed in a blast at his residence that Czech police said appeared to be an accident caused by explosives detonated when the diplomat opened a safe.

"There is nothing suggesting that a terrorist act was committed," spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova told reporters after ambassador Jamal al-Jamal died in hospital following the incident at his home on the morning of New Year's Day.

An explosive device - which may have been part of a security mechanism - went off after the safe was opened, she said.

Jamal, 56, had taken up his post only in October.

The Palestinian foreign ministry, in a statement reported by the official WAFA news agency, said the blast happened minutes after Jamal opened a safe that had come from the embassy's old offices. The mission is in the course of moving in to new premises next to the residence in a suburb of the capital.

Czech police spokeswoman Zoulova said: "The possibilities include inexpert handling of an explosive device or its spontaneous detonation ... The device was in a safe and was triggered after the door of the safe was opened. The police are not ruling out that the device was a part of the safe."

Some safes can be fitted with small charges to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with. However, the Czech police left open the possibility that another kind of explosive device was involved.

A spokesman for the embassy, Nabil el-Fahel, said he had no details on what it was that blew up. "We need to wait for the results of the police investigation," he said.

Jamal suffered lethal injuries to his head, chest and abdomen, surgeon Daniel Langer told Czech television.

No one else was injured in the explosion, police said, although a spokeswoman for Prague's emergency medical services said a 52-year-old woman was treated for smoke inhalation and shock. Jamal's family was at home at the time of the blast.

No signs of damage to the two-storey house was visible outside but police cordoned off part of the street.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said it would send a team to Prague to help with the investigation.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, quoted by WAFA, said Jamal was "martyred in the line of duty".

Born in Beirut to a refugee family, Jamal joined Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Movement in 1975 and served in PLO missions to Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s. Part of the diplomatic corps of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank under interim peace accords with Israel, he had been its consul in Alexandria since 2005.

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