On Sunday afternoon, visitors to Prague’s Old Town Square were greeted by a worrying sight. A jeep full of bearded men dressed in military garb mixed with traditional Middle Eastern attire drove into the square and began shooting Kalashnikovs into the sky and chanting "Allahu akbar."
The men carried with them the flag of the Islamic State and held what appeared to be a prisoner wearing a red jumpsuit in their vehicle. They even had a camel.
Yet on closer inspection, these apparent intruders were not what they seemed. Their beards were fake, their guns fired blanks, and their camel was presumably rented.
As it turns out, the Islamic "invasion" of Prague was actually a stunt staged by Martin Konvička, a Czech politician who is an outspoken critic of Islam. A spokesman told the Dnes news organization that he wanted to show the city's residents what "is happening today every day" just a few thousand kilometers from Prague and is now starting to "penetrate" Central and Western Europe.
The event was planned to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on Aug. 21, 1968.
However, things didn't go exactly as planned. Local police told Radio Prague that Konvička's group had received permission for a "performance" featuring imitation firearms between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, but the fake invasion unexpectedly caused a panic in the square, one of Prague's most popular tourist spots.
“The performance started around 2 p.m. Around 15 minutes later, the imitation gunshots began to sound," Prague Metropolitan Police spokesman Tomáš Hulan said. "This caused a panic on Old Town Square, because many people did not know what was going on and thought a real terrorist shooting was taking place. Some then tried to flee the scene or to seek cover.”
Anti-immigration movement faked ISIS invasion to Prague today. Several tourists injured after panic erupted. pic.twitter.com/p6wVmLghS6
— Filip Horký (@FilipHorky) August 21, 2016
Dnes spoke to staff at the nearby Emblem Hotel who said that around 15 to 20 people had run into their hotel apparently looking for shelter. While there were reports that some people were injured, Prague's emergency services told the news organization that they had not treated anyone at the scene.
After police moved in to cancel the event, eight members of Konvička's group were asked to give statements. Speaking after the event, Konvička blamed the chaos on protesters and said he was sad that the full performance — which was due to include a mock beheading of Czech President Miloš Zeman — didn't go ahead.
The Czech Republic has a negligible Muslim population — estimates run as high as 20,000, less than 0.2 percent of the populace — and it is not a major destination for Muslim refugees and migrants. Despite this, concern about Islam is widespread in the country.
In January, Zeman said that Islamic "culture" should not be allowed into Europe. “The experience of Western European countries which have ghettos and excluded localities shows that the integration of the Muslim community is practically impossible," the president said in a television interview.
Konvička has attempted to turn this sentiment into his own political movement, most recently forming the Alternative for Czech Republic 2017 — modeled on Germany's successful right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) — that plans to run in parliamentary elections next year. He has been behind a number of anti-Islam stunts recently, including a protest outside a mosque where the Koran was burned.
Konvička's mock "Islamic invasion" isn't the only one in recent months to go awry. Last week, an anti-Islam group in Australia stormed an Anglican church in New South Wales and chanted Muslim prayers. "I recognized one of the participants, and clearly they weren't Muslims — it was mock attire," the Rev. Rod Bower told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I quietened the congregation down; they were a bit distressed."
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