PRAGUE (Aug. 8)
An Israeli man who narrowly escaped a bombing incident in central Prague probably was the intended victim of an underworld feud, Czech police say. Israeli businessman Assaf Abutbul escaped unhurt Aug. 1 when an explosive device — possibly a grenade — exploded after being thrown at a Jeep Cherokee where he was sitting. The incident happened outside the Casino Royal, which Abutbul is believed to own, near Wenceslas Square.
The explosion occurred just yards from the spot where Abutbul’s father, Felix, was shot dead by a sniper almost exactly two years ago. That murder remains unsolved, though police believe the two cases are related.
In this week’s incident, a man attempted to throw the explosive device through one of the Jeep’s windows, but it fell short and exploded underneath the vehicle. Up to 18 tourists were injured, none seriously.
Witnesses told police that the suspect, who remains at large, was wearing a baseball cap ! and a blue T-shirt.
Police and government officials have ruled out that the possibility of a terrorist attack. Prague police have formed a special investigative team to handle the case.
“We are still investigating, but one theory being considered is that this was a feud between two families settling accounts” in the underworld, police spokeswoman Iva Knolova said.
Police sources said they were in contact with Israeli counterparts and Interpol in relation to the bombing, but declined to comment further.
Government officials said a Czech citizen holds the license for the Casino Royal, but Abutbul — who lives in Israel — widely is believed to own the business. Abutbul, who has maintained a low profile since the murder of his father two years ago, was unavailable for comment.
Security experts said the attempt on Abutbul’s life seemed like an attempted contract killing.
The Czech press has speculated that the Abutbul family is engaged in a long-standing f! eud with another Israeli family alleged to have links to the underworl d. Israeli sources have confirmed that Abutbul has a brother who
is currently in an Israeli prison on convictions for several offenses, including “violent crimes.”
A former director of Czech foreign intelligence, Oldrich Cerny, told JTA that organized crime networks from the former Soviet Union and other parts of the world had gained Israeli citizenship. He also claimed that Israeli intelligence services had “underrated the danger” of massive immigration of Russians or Ukrainians claiming to be Jewish in the early 1990s.
“They are known as the Israeli mafia, but usually all they have that connects them to Israel is their passports,” he said.
Cerny believes criminal networks have been attracted to the Czech Republic because of its soft gambling laws.
“There are something like 45 casinos in Prague, which is absolute nonsense,” he said. “Casinos are exactly the things that attract money laundering and other forms of organized crime.”
The Israeli Embassy in Pr! ague refused to comment on Abutbul or the bombing.