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Czech PM blames failed arson attempt on Russia

Getty Images Close up of Czech prime minister Petr Fiala

The Czech prime minister, Petr Fiala, has said a failed arson attack that took place in Prague last week was “very likely” organised and financed by Russia.

Speaking after a meeting of the Czech National Security Council, Mr Fiala said the failed attack was evidently part of a “hybrid” campaign of sabotage being run by Moscow against European countries.

Police said a foreign citizen was arrested on Saturday in connection with the incident and was being held in custody on terrorism charges.

He was described as “a Spanish-speaking man originally from South America” and had apparently been in the country for five days.

The prime minister said the attempt to set to fire to buses at a depot in Prague was likely connected to a spate of arson attacks in Europe that he said appeared to be orchestrated by Moscow.

These, he said, included May’s arson attack in Warsaw, and a similar attack in a branch of Ikea in Lithuania, which authorities believe were carried out by Russian intelligence agents or their proxies.

“The connection [to Russia] is not only possible, but highly probable,” Mr Fiala told reporters. “The attack was probably organised and financed from Russia.”

The BBC has approached the Russian foreign ministry for comment on Mr Fiala’s allegations.

Police beefed up patrols across the Czech capital last Friday after claims of a heightened risk to security.

They released CCTV footage apparently showing a dark-haired man paying for items in a shop or petrol station. They said the man was possibly dangerous and should not be approached, but gave no further information.

Police president Martin Vondrasek said the man had been apprehended the following day.

“On Friday we asked the public for assistance. On Saturday morning the suspect was arrested. On Sunday afternoon a criminal prosecution was launched, and today [Monday] a court ordered he be remanded in custody,” Mr Vondrasek told journalists at a news briefing.

The man – described as a 26-year-old of South American origin – is accused of trying to set fire to buses at a public transport depot in Prague’s Klicov district in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Local media initially reported that he had spilt petrol over several buses at the depot, but failed to set them on fire.

However, a spokeswoman for Prague’s public transport authority was quoted by news outlet as saying the man had set several buses alight, and the fires were subsequently extinguished by depot workers. The fires caused an estimated 200,000 Czech crowns (£6,864; $8,738) of damage, she said.

He now faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted under terrorism legislation – 30 if given an exemplary sentence.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Czech government has become one of Ukraine’s most ardent supporters, providing military assistance including artillery, tanks and ammunition.

However the mutual antipathy predates the February 2022 invasion.

The government in Prague says Russia’s GRU intelligence service was behind the 2014 explosions at a Czech arms dump that left two people dead.

The Czech Republic was the second country – after the US – to be placed on Russia’s list of “unfriendly nations” after a series of diplomatic expulsions that followed an investigation into the explosions.

Moscow denies any involvement in the incident.

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