Last night Reuters reported from Budapest that the Hungarian anti-terrorist police had detained four people traveling toward Budapest with explosives in their car and later found “a bomb-making laboratory set up for a mass killing.” The source of the information was the director-general of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), János Hajdu. In addition, Hajdu revealed that two other people had been arrested in a separate raid, in whose possession they found submachine guns, silencers, and ammunition. When asked whether the subjects were jihadist terrorists, he said “Let me reply to that in the next few days.” He also declined to disclose the suspects’ identities, nationalities or motives but indicated that the case had “an international dimension.” Reuters seemed to know that the “suspects had been formally placed under arrest.” In no time this Reuters report from Budapest was picked up in the major newspapers of the world. Fox News announced this development with a bright yellow sign behind the anchor reading “Alert!”
In Hungary, meanwhile, János Hajdu, the former bodyguard of Viktor Orbán, made the rounds at several television stations in addition to MTV’s M1 where he made his initial announcement. I watched him on ATV where he was a guest of Egyenes beszéd.
The news spread like wildfire. Since the initial announcement of TEK’s raids over the weekend hundreds of Hungarian media outlets painted lurid pictures of the possible dangers posed by these “bomb makers,” further disquieting an already jittery Hungarian public. Hajdu described a full-fledged laboratory in which the suspects were ready to manufacture bombs which they could either use themselves or make for others. There was talk of detonators, test tubes, disguised fire extinguishers filled with explosives capable of killing hundreds of people, and grenades of all sorts. He showed a picture of a contraption that was described as a starter mechanism for would-be assassins. The impression he tried to convey was that Hungary was in mortal danger. International terrorism had reached the country.
There is only one problem with the story: not a word of it is true. There is no bomb factory, and there are no terrorist suspects. It is would be easy to conclude that members of TEK are staggeringly incompetent. The best example of their incompetence was the time they seized theater props arriving in Budapest for a film production, thinking they were real weapons. I wrote about that fiasco earlier. But this time it is almost certain that we cannot chalk up to incompetence what happened during this past weekend. Here we are dealing with the willful misleading not only of the public but even of the parliamentary committee on national security. The reason for the deceit? It is most likely a desire to help Viktor Orbán’s current propaganda campaign against the asylum seekers.
Currently the Hungarian government is in the midst of a ferocious anti-refugee campaign. Activists knock on doors gathering signatures to oppose the quota system that the European Union will most likely introduce to deal with the refugee crisis. It was only a few days ago that Viktor Orbán in an interview said that “of course, it’s not accepted, but the factual point is that all the terrorists are basically migrants… The question is when they migrated to the European Union.” The anti-refugee propaganda has been in full swing for months, and by now the great majority of Hungarians have been convinced that the world would come to an end if Hungary accepted even a single refugee. It looks as if it was TEK’s job to find a few terrorists in Hungary to heighten the fear that is already widespread.
So, let’s see what actually happened. There were two raids, both in or close to Budapest. The first took place on Saturday. It seems that TEK had been following two Hungarian men who, from the details Hajdu gave to Olga Kálmán of ATV, are “extremists” and who illegally had in their possession submachine guns, home-made silencers, and ammunition. I suspect that they are the ordinary neo-Nazi types who are unfortunately rather common in Hungarian far-right circles. The second raid took place on the highway, where they arrested four men. These are the ones suspected of terrorism. This is the case that, according to Hajdu, has “an international dimension.”
What is the truth? A young fellow who lives in Budapest is a World War II history buff who collects wartime memorabilia. This past weekend, with his father and two of his friends from Slovakia, he headed to some wooded areas around Veszprém with a metal detector to look for items like shells and old grenades. They packed the things they had found into the trunk of the car and headed home. Great was their surprise when they were surrounded by members of the Hungarian anti-terrorist group. TEK units, with their uniforms, masks, and heavy weaponry, are quite a frightening sight. A search of his parents’ apartment followed, where TEK grabbed everything that looked suspicious to them, including, for example, the above mentioned fire extinguisher. Naturally, the three boys and the father were arrested.
The case was so weak, however, that even the prosecutors asked for temporary custody only for Roland S., who is most likely the boy with such an interest in war memorabilia. This afternoon, however, the court ruled that none of the four should be detained, and in the press release the court stated that “there is nothing in the documents that would indicate that the suspect whose interest in World War II is no more than a hobby has any connection with other organized criminal groups or terrorist organizations…. In fact, everything indicates the lack of any such connection. There is no proof of any extremist views or any foreign connection with the exception that his two companions with a similar interest are from Upper Hungary [Slovakia].”
This morning János Hajdu and other high officials of TEK, who were asked to appear before the parliamentary committee on national security to brief the lawmakers on the background of the terrorist threat, lied. HVG learned that Hajdu talked about the Roland S. case as being of great importance. When the committee members left the conference room, they–including the opposition members–announced that TEK had done an excellent job. Hajdu never said that Roland S. was a collector of war memorabilia or that the so-called international connection was nothing more than two friends from Slovakia.
Try to imagine what would happen to János Hajdu if he pulled this trick at a hearing of one of the committees of the U.S. Congress. He would be charged with contempt of Congress. This is exactly what happened to Rita Lavelle, an EPA official, in 1983 when she was indicted for lying to Congress. She was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison, five years probation thereafter, and a fine of $10,000.
But rest assured, nothing of the sort will happen in Hungary. I hope that the opposition will have the good sense to raise hell and that journalists will follow up on this disgraceful story.