Hungarian arrested over 'bomb threat' to Katsav visit

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The Independent Online

Hungarian police yesterday arrested an Arab suspected of planning an attack on a Jewish museum two days before the Israeli President Moshe Katsav was due to open Budapest's new Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Hungarian police yesterday arrested an Arab suspected of planning an attack on a Jewish museum two days before the Israeli President Moshe Katsav was due to open Budapest's new Holocaust Memorial Centre.

The detainee, one of three arrested in the operation, was a Hungarian citizen of Palestinian origin who works as a dentist and leads a small Islamic group in the country's capital. Two Syrians were also detained for questioning, although apparently as witnesses rather than suspects.

Although the arrests prompted immediate speculation - including among the President's entourage - of a plot to assassinate Mr Katsav, the police later said there was no connection between the arrests and the visit.

Police Lt-Col Attila Petofi, the assistant director of the national investigation agency, said tapped phone calls of the suspect revealed he had asked acquaintances for explosives "to blow up a Jewish museum". But the police appeared yesterday to have uncovered no date or specific target for an attack - or found any explosives being prepared for such an operation.

Speculation about an attempt on the Israeli President's life had been heightened by continued fears in Israel about the retaliation promised in revenge for the assassination of the Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israeli forces in Gaza on 22 March. Israeli forces have been on a heightened security alert throughout the Passover holiday, which ended on Monday. A Hamas statement shortly after the Sheikh Yassin killing had appeared to imply that Israelis abroad could be targeted in retaliatory attacks.

While the Israeli government refrained from making an official comment, the Hungarian national police commissioner Laszlo Salgo said: "There is no connection whatsoever between today's official visit by the Israeli President and the police action taken this morning."

Police Col Gyorgy Zsambok said that although there was no immediate evidence of links to terror organisations such as al-Qa'ida, the police were considering the possibility of such a connection.

Mr Katsav told Israeli television's Channel Two that the Hungarian authorities initially told him he had been the target "but later the authorities clarified that it was still under investigation". He added: "I know at first there was an indication that they wanted to harm me, but there is no certainty of that."

Making it clear that the visit would go ahead as planned, the Israeli President added: "I trust in the Hungarian security forces and I trust in the Israeli security forces."

Amid some confusion over what had triggered the arrests, Lt-Col Petofi said that from last November, the suspect made phone calls to friends "to get explosives", and "asked an acquaintance to use the explosives to blow up a Jewish museum". The unnamed suspect was charged with being involved in the "preparation for a terrorist attack", Lt-Col Petofi added.

The Israeli foreign ministry said it had no comment to make and had not been alerted by the Hungarian authorities to any plot on the President's life. Unofficially, another government source said the Israeli security services would have made exhaustive inquiries in the Hungarian capital ahead of the President's visit. Mr Katsav cancelled a planned visit to Africa two months ago after security personnel decided he could be at risk.

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