Police mobilised to investigate Ostrava arson attack on Roma family

Mother of the girl who put out the fire at the crime scene, photo: CTK

News of another arson attack on a Roma family has sent a shiver down the spines of most Czechs. It recalled the shocking attack almost a year ago which almost killed a two-year-old girl and left her marked for life.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer was quick to condemn the news on Monday of another arson attack on a Roma family, this time in the eastern city of Ostrava.

Mother of the girl who put out the fire at the crime scene, photo: CTK
“Unacceptable, outrageous and mad. I am fundamentally convinced that these are acts which do not belong to normal society. I am firmly convinced that these events will be investigated and the criminals found.”

The latest attack bears many of the hallmarks of the horrifying firebombing of a family 11 months ago in the nearby town of Vítkov which left a two-year-old girl with severe burns on most of her body and on the verge of death. She survived, but will bear the physical and, probably mental, scars forever. The trial of four men accused of taking part in the racist attack should start in May.

This time round the weapon was also a Molotov cocktail, thrown through the window of a small, single storey wooden house on a poor quarter on the edge of Ostrava early on Saturday night. Luckily the bottle did not break on impact and the 14-year-old girl in the room was able to put out the fire. Police say the fire could have spread with startling speed, threatening the lives of eight people altogether in the attacked house and the neighbouring one.

At the moment police cannot confirm or rule out whether the Ostrava attack was racially motivated. The head of Ostrava police, Tomáš Landsfeld, addressed a news conference on Monday.

The bottle was thrown through the window on the right, photo: CTK
“We have not ruled out an attack with a racist motive. But we have no concrete proof indicating that it was clearly that. We are right now ascertaining all the leads we have and carrying out interviews with people who were in the vicinity at the time. At the moment we have no clear, prioritised investigative line. We can just speculate right now on different causes including that.”

Many Roma families nonetheless live at the modest collection of dwellings that comprise the Ostrava site of the attack. Police have put together a special team to investigate, drafting in the same specialists who worked on the Vítkov arson attack around 30 kilometres away. They will be joined by experts from the special squad for investigating organised crime and the domestic intelligence service.

Since the Vítkov firebombing in April 2009 there have been at least two other arson attacks on Roma families: one on the outskirts of Prague one month later and another reported in the south Moravian town of Mikulov in September.