Czechs step up security in wake of Madrid attacks

Five days after the bomb attacks on Madrid, the Czech authorities have announced an apparent u-turn, saying security measures will be increased to deal with the threat of a possible attack on the Czech Republic. The government says while there is no immediate risk, some heightened security measures will after all be put in place.

Police patrols
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced details of the security measures on Sunday, two days after telling reporters there would be no change in security policy in the wake of the Madrid attacks. Mr Gross now says police patrols will be stepped up throughout the country, including an increase in the number of sniffer dogs which can identify explosives. He told Czech Radio that while he didn't want to scare the public unnecessarily, public vigilance was still essential.

"If people are using public transport and notice an unattended bag, they should always tell someone - either the train driver or conductor. We don't people to panic over every little thing. But we are going to have to pay a little more attention to our surroundings in the next few months."

Other measures include putting army units on standby to support the police force, and introducing special security training for the managers of firms employing large amounts of people. But the measures also go further, with the Foreign Ministry announcing some changes to visa policy. These come as three Moroccans and two Indians are being questioned by Spanish police over the attacks. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda explained what changes visitors to the Czech Republic could expect.

"Most importantly we will only grant visas on an individual basis - each application will be carefully scrutinized before a visa is granted. And also in the case of some countries, we will only grant visas to people who apply for them in the country where they have permanent residence. So if someone from one of those countries wishes to travel to the Czech Republic via Poland or Austria for example, they will no longer be able to apply for a visa in Poland or Austria."

To what extent the Czech Republic can be considered a target for Islamic terrorists is harder to gauge. The country played only a minor role in the U.S.-led war on Iraq, sending an army field hospital to Basra and an anti-chemical unit to Kuwait. However more than 100 Czech special forces soldiers have recently been sent to Afghanistan, to help track down al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. That deployment was part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, making the Czech Republic a formal ally of the United States in the "war on terror".