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Originally published January 1, 2014 at 8:41 PM | Page modified January 2, 2014 at 9:13 AM

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Palestinian envoy killed when Czech booby-trapped safe explodes

The diplomat, Jamal al-Jamal, 56, had been in Prague, the Czech capital, since Oct. 11.

The New York Times

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BERLIN — The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic died Wednesday after suffering severe injuries caused by an explosive booby-trap security system in a safe at his Prague residence that he apparently had triggered by mistake, police said.

They said there was no indication the explosion was sabotage or a terrorist attack.

The diplomat, Jamal al-Jamal, 56, had been in the Czech capital only since Oct. 11. He and his family were just moving into the residence, and the explosion occurred while he was opening the safe Wednesday, inadvertently setting off the security protection, according to a police spokeswoman, Andrea Zoulova.

Daniel Langer, the lead surgeon at the Central Military Hospital in Prague, said the ambassador had suffered head, chest and stomach injuries. An autopsy was scheduled.

An unidentified 52-year-old woman, reportedly al-Jamal’s wife, was taken to the hospital from the residence after apparently inhaling fumes from the explosion, but she was released soon afterward, said Jirina Ernestova, an official in Prague’s emergency services.

Zoulova said a police investigation indicated the safe had exploded because of careless handling that detonated the security system, which had been installed to prevent unauthorized opening.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki concurred that no foul play was suspected, noting that the safe had been left untouched for more than 20 years.

It was unclear how al-Jamal tried to open the safe or what type of safe it was.

The safe was recently moved; it had come from a building that used to house the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) offices in the 1980s, Malki said.

“The ambassador decided to open it. After he opened it, apparently something happened inside (the safe) and went off,” Malki said.

It was not clear how Malki knew the safe had been untouched for more than 20 years or why and when the safe would have been booby-trapped.

The president of the Czech police, Martin Cervicek, was quoted by Czech television as saying, “We do not have a single indication that this could be a terrorist attack.”

The PLO, the main umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, maintains missions in a number of European capitals as part of a broader diplomatic effort aimed at advancing the cause of Palestinian statehood.

After the U.N. General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to nonmember observer state in November 2012, the Czech Republic was one of many nations that also upgraded its diplomatic mission to be known as the Embassy of the State of Palestine. The Palestinian ambassador’s residence in Prague is different from the mission itself, which is in a neighboring villa.

The villa where the explosion took place suffered no damage visible from the outside, according to the website of the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes. It quoted neighbors as saying they had heard nothing.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, carried by WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, that a Palestinian delegation would arrive in Prague on Thursday to assist with the investigation.

Al-Jamal was born in 1957, in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp. His family is originally from Jaffa in what is now Israel.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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