Prime Minister Gruevski says terror group in Kumanovo was planning mass murder attacks

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said that the police action in the city of Kumanovo through Saturday and in early Sunday was launched after the Interior Ministry received information that a large and well armed group was preparing major terror attacks on civilian and state targets. Gruevski said that the fighting lasted for 28 hours nearly without a pause, and added that its complexity has surpassed anything Macedonia has ever dealt with before, including in the 2001 conflict. Eight policemen were killed and 37 wounded, and so far 14 bodies of members of the terror group have been recovered, but more are thought to be in the ruins of the houses where they were hiding in. Additional 30 insurgents were captured.

"The operation was carried out in a completely responsible manner by professionals from the Interior Ministry. Police officers, which included members from all ethnic groups and religious creeds, Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosniaks, Vlachs, performed a highly complex, patriot, heroic action in which they neutralized the terrorists who were planning mass murder in Macedonia with the goal to destabilize the country. Unfortunately, eight officers lost their lives. We lost eight men who have helped prevent the murder of possibly 8.000. Praise them", Gruevski said at the press conference in the Macedonian Government.

The Prime Minister also expressed his gratitude to the officers who were injured in the fighting, to the medical staff, but also to all the citizens who "displayed restraint and self-control and didn't make moves that could have further deteriorated the otherwise very complex situation. Some of the media were attempting to stir up anger among the Albanians in Macedonia, but they didn't fall for these provocations. I want to send a clear message - this is not a confrontation between Macedonians and Albanians. This was a confrontation between persons who didn't wish well to the country and all of its citizens, and officers who protect the country, the Constitution and order. The actions of this group would have brought harm both to Macedonia, and to ethnic Albanians".

He confirmed earlier information given by the Interior Ministry that about 30 members of the group have surrendered, adding they will be put to trial before Macedonian courts. Initial informations, Gruevski said, indicate that the same group performed an earlier attack on a border police station in the village of Gosince, close to the border with Kosovo, where four Macedonian officers were disarmed and ordered to leave the area.

"So far 14 bodies presumed to be of the members of the terrorist group have been recovered, but investigation on the ground is still on-going. Some of the members of the group have already taken part in earlier conflicts, some of them in our region, and some in the Middle East. They had enormous experience in guerrilla and terror tactics and were considered the most dangerous terror group in the Balkans", Gruevski said. It's leaders were identified by the Interior Ministry as Muhamed Krasniqi, Sami Ukshini, Mirsad Ndrecay, Beg Rizay and Deme Shehu, at least some of whom are believed to have been captured. All five are citizens of Kosovo. The group also included Macedonian citizens.

The fighting took place in a largely ethnic Albanian part of the city of Kumanovo, which has a majority Macedonian population and also a large Serbian community, and is close to the borders with both Kosovo and Serbia. The south-western part of the city is a densely populated maze of houses and narrow streets, and Prime Minister Gruevski said that the terrain and the caution the officers had to display presuming civilians could be in every house added enormously to the difficulty of the operation. The armed group also put up fierce resistance against the police special forces, using grenade launchers, automatic weapons and snipers, and while some were surrendering, others were actually increasing the level of their resistance.

Prime Minister Gruevski also expressed his gratitude to the citizens who offered to help during the crisis, to the Mayor of Kumanovo, to the Army and other institutions which were in constant communication with the Interior Ministry.

President Ivanov is holding a meeting of the National security council at 17:30, which, on top of the state leadership and Government ministers is also expected to include some of the main political party leaders. The President is expected to speak after the council.