Five Czechs who had been missing and presumed kidnapped in Lebanon for five months arrived home on Thursday after the Czech government freed two Lebanese nationals wanted by the United States. The swap, which Czech officials have not officially confirmed, elicited an angry reaction from Washington.
The five Czechs who went missing in Lebanon last July arrived home on a government plane on Thursday. Simultaneously, Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán announced the release of two of three men detained in Prague on charges of supporting terrorism: Ali Fayad, a member of the Lebanese secret services and Khaled Murabi, whose extradition was sought by the United States. Although a court had already approved their extradition it was up to the justice minister to make a final decision on the case.
“I made the decision taking into account various factors, the gravity of the transgression as well as information from our intelligence services, which I cannot specify.”
The US ambassador to Prague, Andrew Schapiro, expressed shock over the decision, saying it would seriously harm cooperation between the two countries' law enforcement bodies and only encourage criminal groups and terrorists around the world.
The only Czech official to confirm the swap was Defense Minister Martin Stropnický who told the daily Hospodářské noviny: the safe return home of the five Czechs in Lebanon hinged on the release of Ali Fayad, the two are linked.
The prime minister has said it is now essential to investigate the case and ascertain what the five Czechs - a lawyer, a military intelligence officer, an interpreter and two TV reporters were doing in Lebanon.
According to both Lebanese and Czech media the group fell into a trap prepared by the Lebanese intelligence service which was trying to secure the return of its agent Ali Fayad. The reason they fell for the trap, according to the daily Mladá fronta Dnes is poor cooperation and even rivalry between the civil and military intelligence services. The paper claims the civil service knew that one of the terrorist suspects imprisoned in Prague was a Lebanese agent but did not pass the information on to military intelligence, which fell for the Lebanese trap and sent one of its agents to the country under the guise of a journalist on the promise of gaining more information about the case of a Czech national abducted in Libya.
Although the head of the civil intelligence service has rejected the speculation, the head of the military service, Jan Beroun, who was grilled on the matter by a Parliamentary committee this week, admitted there were ongoing problems in communication between the intelligence services.
If an investigation into the case confirms that the lives of five Czech citizens were put at risk by the country’s intelligence services it would have far reaching consequences on the domestic scene and seriously harm the country’s reputation abroad.
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