Britons among 18 injured in Prague grenade attack

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The Independent Online

A grenade blast outside a casino in the centre of Prague injured at least 18 people yesterday, including four Britons.

A grenade blast outside a casino in the centre of Prague injured at least 18 people yesterday, including four Britons.

The casino is in a pedestrian zone off Wenceslas Square, where bars and restaurants were crowded with tourists and locals strolling in the sunshine or enjoying drinks in open-air cafés. Police said that none of the injuries was life-threatening.

Senior politicians were quick to say the explosion was not connected to terrorism. Rudolf Blazek, deputy mayor of the Czech Republic's capital, blamed a turf war among local gangsters.

Vehicles sometimes pass along the pedestrian area on Na Prikope Street. Police, sifting through wreckage and broken glass, said first indications were that someone had thrown a grenade at the casino from a car. One witness apparently said the grenade rolled under a white Jeep before exploding.

The target was the Casino Royal, owned by an Israeli accused of being an underworld boss. It is a two-storey building on one of the pedestrian zone's busiest corners, opposite a McDonald's restaurant. Some of the injured are believed to have been customers in a big open-air eating section yards from the blast. Americans and Irish were also among those hurt.

Prague is among Europe's most popular tourist destinations and tens of thousands visit the city's medieval and baroque buildings, cobblestone alleyways and squares each summer. Many Britons are among the visitors, including those interested in cultural sites but also groups of young men who come on drinking binges every weekend, consuming as much as they can of the Czech Republic's cheap beer.

The British embassy in Prague would not give details about the four Britons injured but their condition was not thought to be serious.

Police said they were searching for a suspect. Organised criminal gangs, usually non-Czechs, have fought over lucrative businesses centred on services for tourists, including bars, restaurants, casinos and prostitution. Gangs from Russia, Israel, Ukraine and Bulgaria operate in the country. Russian and Israeli gangs have reportedly used front-men to buy many hotels and restaurants and casinos in the spa town of Karlovy Vary. Several years ago gang rivalry erupted into fatal shootouts in Prague's streets.

An Israeli source said the attack was part of a vicious feud among Jewish organised crime gangs. The casino's owner, Assaf Abutbul, was the target of the attack but he escaped unharmed. Most of the blast was absorbed by a Cherokee Jeep with US numberplates thought to belong to him.

Mr Abutbul's father, Felix, known in the underworld by the nickname Baiza, which means butcher, was shot dead by a hit-man near the casino two years ago. His son took over the business, which includes part-ownership of other casinos. Mr Abutbul's lawyers said their client "had no enemies" and he was in Prague due to his business activities.