Prague could be next terror network target

New intelligence suggests the next terrorist target for the Al Qaeda network could be a European city visited by more than 300,000 British tourists every year.

Israel’s intelligence agencies are believed to have leaked information which suggests Osama bin Laden’s still-active network is planning a spectacular attack on Jewish sites in the Czech capital, Prague.

An Israeli newspaper called Yediot Achronot is seen as close to military circles in Israel and analysts warns its reports of the threat must not be ignored.

“They use sources with a reputation for being accurate on intelligence matters,” says Martin Woker, a veteran Middle East news correspondent.

Sources within Israel’s security services are reported as having received intelligence indicating a strike on Prague could follow recent Al Qaeda attacks on western tourist sites in Bali and Kenya.

Prague receives 200,000 Israeli visitors to its celebrated Jewish quarter every year. And some 300,000 Britons visited the city last year, according to the Czech Tourist Authority. Czech police believe the Afghan people smuggling ring they recently smashed was orchestrated by Al Qaeda cells which experts are convinced have infiltrated the country.

“Al Qaeda have a presence in at least 60 countries – and that almost certainly includes the Czech Republic. They’re always looking for targets of opportunity,” says Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University.

The Israeli embassy in Prague was unavailable for comment – but diplomats have not refuted claims that Prague could be chosen for an attack.

Czech officials openly admit they don’t want to scare tourists at a time when Prague is still reeling from the effects of summer floods, which kept holidaymakers away. But observers say there is also complacency in the Czech press, which is still struggling to find a critical voice 13 years after the collapse of communism.

“The Czech media simply aren’t talking about the threat of a terrorist attack at all because experts who have studied Al Qaeda’s history say people should not be kept in the dark as to why terrorists with a grievance against the west could also strike in eastern Europe," says Abdel Bari-Atwan, editor of London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arab.

Mr Bari-Atwan is a top analyst on charting the causes of Middle-East violence. He warns that, after the Kenyan hotel bombing, anyone visiting well-known areas of Jewish interest should be on their guard. Bari-Atwan says he watched a chilling videotape issued by Al Qaeda recently, which promised fresh attacks.

“The Mombassa attack was a turning point. Now Al Qaeda are starting to attack Israelis across the world. Al Qaeda has a sizeable presence in Bosnia and has found support in some radical Islamic communities in Germany. They could certainly use these bases to attack Prague.”

Recently, a request for extra Prague police patrol requests was turned down. Roman Kupcinsky, a terrorism expert at Prague’s Radio Free Europe, is dismayed at the authorities’ apparent reluctance to take the issue seriously.

“Czech security services are inefficient and incompetent with a fear of bad publicity and [reputation for] covering up their mistakes. This could make Prague a soft target for terrorists.”

The Radio Free Europe building in Prague’s city centre is seen as a prime terrorist target because it beams programmes into Arab states such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

A nervous Czech Government has asked the US-funded broadcaster to leave the country. Elsewhere concern over the controversial Czech nuclear reactor Temelin resurfaced during the country’s recent negotiations to join the European Union.

An investigation in July last year revealed any terrorist could have entered Temelin unchallenged. However, when ministers from Austria discussed Temelin’s safety at a recent EU summit in Copenhagen, organisers brushed aside such concerns.

“Austria wants to score points on Temelin,” joked Danish foreign minister Stig Moller.

Officials prevented a debate, saying nuclear safety issues should not disrupt negotiations on EU expansion. The environmental group Greenpeace has long cautioned that terrorists could strike at Temelin.

“Whenever I meet European officials and mention terrorism and nuclear power stations in the same sentence, the room goes silent,” says spokesman Jan Haverkanp.

Now warning voices have been raised, it remains to be seen who will hear them.