Tracking Terrorists in the Czech Republic

Robert Šlachta, head of the police's organized crime unit (ÚOOZ), on the terrorist threat

Several Islamist terrorist suspects were arrested in the Czech Republic earlier this month. What led you to begin surveillance of them?

A tip-off from foreign colleagues. The first signs came from Germany. The [suspected terrorist] group first operated in Germany and then moved to the Czech Republic. It was our job to discover their whereabouts.

How long have you been following them?

We received the first information in 2008. That may seem like a long time before we arrested them but in the beginning all we knew was that there might be some suspicious people in the country, without knowing where, or if they were really here. It was quite complicated to gather evidence and verify everything.

You have filed charges against five people, accusing them of supporting terrorism. What exactly are they suspected of?

The group's work on the territory of the Czech Republic had nothing to do with our country, meaning they weren't trying to establish themselves within local structures. They are accused of forging new identities and travel documents, which they distributed to persons living primarily in Germany. They are members of a radical Islamist group called Jamaat Shariat.

What do you know about the people who commissioned the forged documents?

They used the travel documents, mainly Bulgarian, to move freely around the European Union. Under those identities they committed crime in order to raise money, [which] they sent to the countries of the North Caucasus, probably to other members of the Jamaat Shariat organization. We also know that some of those with new identities were trained in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What kind of life did the suspects here lead?

They were a closed community. They lived only for themselves with no contact with the outside world. They hardly went out and, if they did, they all went out together. They made no contacts, either with individuals or with the criminal underground. It was very similar in Germany.

What is the goal of Jamaat Shariat?

The founders of the organization come from Dagestan. It is a radical Islamist movement that uses violence. It was founded during the second Russian-Chechen War, at the end of the 1990s. Their goal is to establish a separatist North Caucasian Sharia-based Islamic state. The organization is responsible for a number of terrorist attacks.

This isn't the first case of terrorism in the Czech Republic. In the past, Mohamed Atta, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, stayed here. Do you know anything about his visits to the Czech Republic and also in connection with the killing of Osama bin Laden?

We access these matters regularly but there are no new findings in this regard. That is more the intelligence service's agenda. We don't deal with it directly.

How difficult is it for a terrorist to live unnoticed in the Czech Republic?

Since the Czech Republic joined the Schengen zone in 2007, it has become much easier. Ninety-nine percent of people use the Schengen zone in a positive way but that remaining one percent abuses it. That is the same in the Czech Republic, which has a number of Russian-speaking communities. It is a challenge for us [ÚOOZ] to use the available information better and to be able to penetrate these criminal structures more effectively.

How many [Russian-speaking] groups of this kind are here?

Sometimes they seem to be individuals and later it turns out to be a whole network. We can't clearly say how many there are, and I refuse to speculate on the number.

What safety risks do they represent, though?

A high risk. The Czech Republic is quite an active member of the NATO and that has a direct connection with the higher interest of terrorists in the Czech Republic. Therefore the risk is real. Terrorists regard the Czech Republic as something of a "peaceful zone" as well as a logistical base. They flock here when there are tough [anti-terrorist] operations in other countries. We are one of the first countries in the Schengen zone on their route into Europe. So from our country they continue to carry out more operations in other countries. From our country, they "export" money to other countries.

Is there anyone connected to al-Qaeda in the Czech Republic?

I can't comment on this.

Do you expect more terrorist attacks following bin Laden's death?

We are in touch with foreign partners. There are higher security measures in place in certain strategic spots. We're operating on the basis that we might expect some kind of revenge against the West in relation to bin Laden's death. At the moment, we have no information that the Czech Republic could be a target, though.

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