The Camel and I
From the not-only-can-you-not-make-this-stuff-up-but-you-can’t-make-anything-up department. Or, some stories write themselves. Courtesy of the Ministry of Imagination (and the New York Times):
Fake ISIS Attack in Prague, Intended as Protest, Causes Panic
By DAN BILEFSKY and JAN RICHTER AUG. 22, 2016
A stunt in Prague on Sunday stirred panic among tourists who thought a terrorist attack was underway. Credit: Marketa Horesovska/Czech News Agency, via Associated Press
Sporting detachable beards, the men drove a Humvee onto Old Town Square in Prague on Sunday, wielding fake submachine-style BB guns and waving an Islamic State flag. Accompanied by a camel and a goat, they shouted “Allahu akbar” and fired guns without pellets.
“We are bringing you the light of true faith,” the leader of the men, Martin Konvicka, who was dressed as an imam, told the crowd.
Mr. Konvicka is an anti-immigration activist, and his stunt — which had been preapproved by City Hall — was intended to sound the alarm about what he views as the threat posed by Islam to the Czech way of life. But he evidently did not anticipate how it would be received.
Prague is one of Central Europe’s most visited destinations; tourists throng the medieval Old Town and neighboring Josefov, the historic Jewish quarter, and nearby landmarks like the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle.
The faux occupation stirred panic among tourists, including a group of visitors from Israel. Dozens of onlookers, including some with children, ran for cover, knocking over chairs at restaurants. Several tourists suffered bruises.
“I was entering Old Town Square from a far corner and heard gunshots,” said Andrea Steinova, a Prague resident. “Then I saw a group of about 40 people, some of them yelling in Hebrew, running toward me. A couple of them tripped and fell, and others ran over them.”
Kristyna Vinsova, a server at Kotleta, a restaurant on the square, said about 80 people charged through the doors. “They knocked over tables and chairs, they were absolutely terrified and there were many families with children,” she said. “After about 15 minutes, one man went to see what was going on and came back to tell us it was a ‘theatrical performance.’ But it took many of the people around an hour to actually calm down and leave.”
Aaron Gunsberger, who owns a kosher restaurant in the Jewish quarter, grabbed his gun and ran to the square, fearful that an attack was taking place.
“When I figured out what was happening, I told some puzzled American tourists that this was just our local clown, but that I didn’t think it was funny,” he said. “If they had shown up like this in front of my restaurant, I’d be in jail now because I would have shot them.”
Gun laws in the Czech Republic are generally less restrictive than in most other parts of Europe, and Josefov — whose synagogues and cemetery survived World War II because the Nazi occupiers intended for the quarter to become a museum of the extinct Jewish race — is, like many Jewish neighborhoods in Europe, carefully guarded.
The act over the weekend was halted before it got to its planned end: The simulated killing of a prisoner, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, in the square.
The Czech interior minister, Milan Chovanec, was not amused. On Twitter, he called the protest a sign of “idiocy.”
Not all tourists were sent into panic.
Footage showed some onlookers taking photographs or videos, and even giggling. Other people taunted the protesters; one woman shouted at the men, “Xenophobe! Xenophobe!”
Mr. Konvicka, an entomologist at University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice, in the country’s south, founded a group called “We don’t want Islam in the Czech Republic.” He had called the protest “The Occupation of Prague” and scheduled it for Sunday, the 48th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
On his Facebook page, he called the operation a success. “Until a few Muslims started shouting aggressively and pushing toward the performers, everything was going very peacefully,” he wrote.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Konvicka said it was obvious that the mock attack was a stunt, adding, “The police checked our air guns and even counted how many bearded guys were in our group, to make sure we didn’t deviate from what we told City Hall we would do.”
A spokesman for the Prague police, Tomas Hulan, said the department had no power to ban the event as it had been approved by City Hall. He said officers had questioned eight people and were looking into whether anyone could be charged for disturbing the peace.
City Hall officials defended their decision to allow the protest but acknowledged that they had not fully understood what would unfold. “We only had very basic information of what the spectacle would be like,” said Vit Hofman, a spokesman for City Hall. “Had we known what was going to transpire, we would certainly have banned it.”
The Czech Republic, like other countries in Europe, has been grappling with fears about Islamic terrorism that are being exploited across the political spectrum.
This month, a 25-year-old mechanic and loner from a small Czech town, who tried to travel to Syria in January, was charged with attempted terrorism, in what the authorities said was the first known case of a Czech citizen’s trying to join the Islamic State.
The case stirred anxieties that homegrown Islamic radicalism may have migrated to Eastern and Central Europe. In the Czech Republic, such concerns have been fanned by President Milos Zeman, who warned last year that Islamic State jihadists must be crushed to prevent a “super Holocaust,” and who suggested that Czechs might want to arm themselves.
The country has about 10.5 million people, with roughly 20,000 Muslims.
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