Police uncover first case of a terrorist network operating in the Czech Republic, eight charged with aiding Dagestani Shariat Jamaat

Foto: Archivo de la Policía checa

Police in the Czech Republic have uncovered the first ever case of an international terrorist network operating within the country. It has now been reported that eight foreigners from the radical Islamic organisation Shariat Jamaat of Dagestan, were arrested in April from sites around Bohemia, after a three-year investigation for proof of their complicity in terrorism in the North Caucuses region. The news is the first evidence of a long-held fear that the Czech Republic may be an apt strategic location for terrorist cells. Christian Falvey has this report.

Photo: Archive of the Police of the Czech Republic
Are there terrorists operating or ‘sleeping’ in the Czech Republic, with its central location, liberal environment and open doors to Europe? That is a question that has often circulated at least since the 11th of September, 2001, and on Monday the unfortunate answer that emerged was yes, with the revelation that raids had been carried out in early April with the assistance of German police and a number of arrests had been made. Robert Šlachta is the director of the organised crime unit of the Czech police:

“The investigation is still underway, but the individuals under arrest are being charged with the production of false identities under which others could operate, and thereby also with supporting a terrorist movement. The group was not planning an attack on the Czech Republic but were sending these identities on to other countries for financial gain, and then sending the money back to Dagestan.”

Robert Šlachta,  photo: CTK
The suspects consist of three Bulgarian nationals accused of counterfeiting high-quality ID cards and money. Other members of the group included Moldavians and Dagestanis requesting asylum in the Czech Republic. The last of the group, a Chechnyan, was found in possession of grenades, machine guns, explosives and heroin. According to Colonel Šlachta, the suspects are confirmed as having been trained in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have thus far refused to cooperate with the police or to give evidence.

The evidence reported by the police rapid response unit seems clear enough though, including implements for forging documents and forged documents themselves, and also written materials relating to the Shariat Jamaat of Dagestan, a militant Islamic group linked to the Moscow metro bombing attack of 2010 and other acts of terrorism.

Photo: Archive of the Police of the Czech Republic
While this particular group was apparently driven to the Czech Republic from neighbouring Germany, a question remains whether there was something about the Czech Republic as would allow members of terrorist organisations to operate at greater ease, or whether this particular situation could have happened in any European state; that’s a question we put to security expert and former head of Czech Military intelligence, General Andor Šandor:

“I would say that it depends on what the terrorist group is doing on the territory. If you look at the UK, France and Germany, we are not surprised that there are terrorist groups, it is based on the large Muslim population in accordance with the foreign policy that the country follows, in particular in the United Kingdom. As far as our country is concerned, we have accepted the idea that the Czech Republic is a place where these people can meet, a place which guarantees them something like a safe haven, logistic support, and where they can talk, meet and prepare actions abroad. That we are so complacent with this fact I don’t think is a good thing. We should look at look at our legislation and our security conditions and should not accept the fact that terrorists can come here or that anyone would consider the Czech Republic a place where they can come, talk and prepare things to be done elsewhere.”

Then do you think that these arrests will be a major game-changer in terms of the strategy that the state and the police take towards terrorism?

“If that were to happen, it would be good, but personally I am pessimistic. What needs to be done is for the politicians to be convinced that the legislation should be changed in order to help the police and the security forces combat terrorism more efficiently. If you look at some of the activities [the suspects] were doing here, like forging identities, it’s mainly because our legislation is not as strict as in some other countries. So if they are caught forging IDs here they may be punished, but not as severely as in the United Kingdom.”

Why the news was released at exactly this moment in time, when the major headline around the world remains the capture of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, is not entirely clear. Police chief Petr Lessy said only that the two events are not related in any way.