Mazher Mahmood, a respected British undercover reporter for News of the World, has just made headlines here in the Czech Republic. On Tuesday, the Czech Intelligence Service confirmed that last June its men had detained and interrogated Mr. Mahmood when he was trying to leave the country with a false passport and other fake documents in his possession. The revelation has thrown a new spin on Mr. Mahmood's investigative reports about the Czech Republic, in which he claimed that it was possible for terrorists to enter the country illegally, buy false documents and leave unnoticed.
"Well, the reason this story has made headlines now is that apparently Mr. Mahmood left out a very important piece of information in his reports and the Czech intelligence service was not in a position to reveal it at the time. What happened - in short - is that Mr. Mahmood was out to prove that terrorists could enter the Czech Republic without any problem, buy false passports here and any other fake documents - and leave undeterred for any destination - for instance, Great Britain. So he was insinuating that the country was putting everyone at risk by paying scant attention to security. Now these accusations came out in News of the World last autumn, but the Czech intelligence service claims that it was a very different story."
So what do they say?
"According to the intelligence service Mr. Mahmood's activities and movements here were closely monitored during his three separate stays in Czech Republic and he and his photographer Conrad Brown were both detained at Prague's Ruzyne Airport by the intelligence service -as they were trying to leave the country -and were interrogated for several hours. They were allegedly released after explaining their mission and handing over the false identity papers. The intelligence service says that it greatly regrets the fact that Mr. Mahmood failed to mention any of this to his readers when writing his reports."
Why didn't the intelligence service take a stand at the time?
"They say it was because they were out to get the gang which was selling false identity papers, which they eventually did - and that Mr. Mahmood was a marginal figure in this case - so they couldn't risk publicizing any information. As I said, it is a revelation that has come about four months late -but the public here is interested - and naturally as concerned as people elsewhere about whether security measures are sufficient, given the times we live in."
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