Three of the six defendants charged with killing five men in April pleaded innocent at the start of their trial in Skopje.
The defendants in court | Photo by: MIA
The hearing of the first three defendants, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri and Rami Sejdi in the case known as “Monster”, started on Wednesday and lasted more than five hours in the Skopje District Court.
All three men pleaded innocent, claiming to have been at other locations at the time of the slayings that took place in April near the Skopje ring road.
“I have never even been to the place [where the murders took place],” Ismailovic said.
The other defendant, Aziri, said he spent the entire day in the nearby Ilinden municipality, where he attended a public event staged by the local authorities and conducted business with the mayor, Zika Stojanovski.
Rami Sejdi, said he was at his home.
The bodies of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12.
The bodies had been lined up and appeared to have been executed. The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was found a short distance away from the rest.
The prosecution has pressed terrorism charges against six persons suspected of having organized and committed the murders.
Two defendants, Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic, remain at large. Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Rami Sejdi and Haki Aziri appeared in court.
According to the charges, Demiri and Afrim and Agim Ismailovic committed the murders with automatic rifles, while the others provided logistical support.
News of the murder raised ethnic tensions, after groups of ethnic Macedonians staged protests, some of them violent, blaming the killings on members of the country’s large Albanian community.
The murder scene near Skopje | Photo by: AP/Boris Grdanoski
In May, police arrested 20, allegedly radicalised, Muslims, including four of the defendants, in an operation in several villages around the capital.
The police maintain that the killings were a terrorist act committed to provoke ethnic turmoil.
In 2001 Macedonia experienced a violent armed conflict between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, which ended with the signing of the Ohrid peace Accord that granted more rights to Albanians.
The trial was originally set to start in December but the court accepted the defence lawyers' request for more time to study the charges.