On Wednesday a small bank in the district of Prague 4 witnessed drama of a kind rarely seen in the Czech Republic, when an armed robber took two people hostage at gunpoint and demanded millions in crowns, or he would begin shooting. The assailant, who had appeared in the branch a day earlier, communicated his demands through a police negotiator in the stand-off which lasted almost four hours. In the end, he got nothing: only handcuffs and a quick ride to a police cell.
Bank jobs are not unusual in the Czech Republic but only rarely have would-be robbers held and threatened to shoot hostages: that was the situation on the ground much of Wednesday at a Prague 4 bank. The situation began when a 51-year-old suspect entered the premises at around ten am. It was not the first time he had been there: a day earlier the suspect had asked about the possibility of securing a business loan. A day later, brandishing a gun, he took two people - the branch’s director and another female employee - hostage. His demand? Three million crowns and a secure escape.
Local officers as well as police from the country’s rapid-response force arrived at the scene soon after, proceeding to close off areas around the bank including nearby stores, even as snipers took up position. Some 70 officers were on the scene. First contact with the assailant was made over the telephone. The police negotiators who led talks with the robber was afterwards credited with having done an exceptional job, which led to one hostage being released early into the stand-off. Libor Lochman is the head of URNA – the rapid-response force; he had nothing but praise for the officers, including the negotiators who gained the assailant’s trust:
“I think it was a success because the negotiators did such a good job. It’s true the negotiations led to the release of only one of the hostages but our immediate priority was to put the least number of people at threat. According to my information, the man did not behave aggressively towards the hostages but he did have a weapon and he threatened he would use it if his demands weren’t met. There were moments when he was clearly disturbed and we couldn’t predict what he might do. Then, when we moved in, everything happened so fast he didn’t have time to act.”
Police moved in after the robber agreed to exchange his remaining hostage for a plains-clothes negotiator: a stun grenade caught the assailant by surprise. Within seconds, the man had been apprehended and the last of the hostages led to safety. Still there’s no question those at gunpoint must have suffered emotional trauma and their employer is providing psychological counselling.
As for the 51-year-old perpetrator? He has been charged in connection with the hold-up and additional charges may follow: as it stands he could face between ten to 15 years in prison. Why did the assailant do it? So far, few details have emerged, but it has been revealed the man was punished eight times in the past for shady property transactions. A number of news websites, including iDnes, have also since reported that after police moved in on Wednesday they learned the firearm the man was brandishing was in fact a gas pistol.