PRAGUE – The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic died Wednesday in an explosion that occurred when he opened an old safe that had been left untouched for more than 20 years, officials said.
Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, 56, was at home with his family at the time of the explosion, according to Palestinian Embassy spokesman Nabil El-Fahel.
Al-Jamal was seriously injured and rushed to a hospital where he died, according to police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said no foul play was suspected, noting that the safe had been left untouched for more than 20 years.
It also appeared that the door of the safe had been booby-trapped, according to Zoulova. It was unclear how al-Jamal tried to open it or what type of safe it was.
The safe was recently moved from the old embassy building, but it had come from a building that used to house the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s offices in the 1980s, Malki said.
“The ambassador decided to open it. After he opened it, apparently something happened inside [the safe] and went off,” Malki told The Associated Press.
It was not immediately clear how Malki knew the safe had been untouched for more than 20 years or why and when the safe would have been booby-trapped.
During the 1980s – before the fall of the Soviet Union – the PLO had close ties with the Eastern bloc countries. In recent years, relations have been tense and the Czech government was seen as largely taking Israel’s side in the Mideast conflict, said Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs veteran and leading official in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
“The safe was sitting neglected in one of the areas of the old embassy. It was in one of the corners. No one had touched it for 20 to 25 years,” Malki said.
The embassy recently moved to a new complex.
“The ambassador wanted to know what is in the safe,” Malki said. “He opened it and asked his wife to bring a paper and a pen to write down the contents of the safe. She left him to bring [the] pen and paper. During that time, she heard the sound of an explosion.”
He said the ambassador had taken some of the contents out of the safe, but it wasn’t immediately clear what was inside. It was also unclear how soon the explosion occurred after he opened the safe.
The ambassador and his wife were alone in the building at the time because it was a holiday, Malki said. His 52-year-old wife, who called embassy employees to seek help, was treated for shock at the hospital but released. She was not immediately named.
Zoulova said police were searching the apartment but declined further comment.
Martin Cervicek, the country’s top police officer, told Czech public television that nothing was immediately found to suggest that the diplomat had been a victim of a crime.
Cervicek later said police found one more safe at the embassy complex and were checking it, but that no other explosives were found, Czech public radio and television said.
Prague rescue service spokeswoman Jirina Ernestova said al-Jamal was placed in a medically induced coma when he first arrived at Prague Military Hospital. Dr. Daniel Langer, who works there, told public television that al-Jamal had suffered serious abdominal injuries, as well as injuries to his chest and head.
The embassy complex is in Prague’s Suchdol neighborhood.
The new embassy had not been opened yet and the ambassador, who was appointed in October, spent only two nights in the new residence — also in the new complex.
The explosion occurred in the ambassador’s residence.
Al-Jamal was born in 1957, in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp. His family is originally from Jaffa in what is now Israel.
He joined Fatah in 1975. In 1979, he was appointed deputy ambassador in Bulgaria.
Starting in 1984, he served as a diplomat in Prague, eventually as acting ambassador. From 2005-2013, he served as consul general in Alexandria, Egypt. In October 2013, he was appointed ambassador in Prague.
Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report from Ramallah, West Bank.