news 30 Jun 14

Six Albanians Jailed for Macedonia ‘Terror’ Murders

Six alleged ethnic Albanian Muslim extremists have been jailed for life for terrorism over the killings of five ethnic Macedonians in Skopje - a case that raised ethnic tensions in the country.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The defendants in court.

Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta were found guilty on Monday of killing five ethnic Macedonians at Orthodox Easter in 2012 and given the longest possible sentence for terrorism offences, life in prison.

The court said that the murder was planned and carried out in a “vicious manner”.

A seventh man, Rami Sejdi, who was initially charged with helping the group commit the murders, was acquitted. Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic were sentenced in absentia because they are in prison in Kosovo, serving jail terms for the illegal possession of weapons.

The killings sparked violent protests back in 2012 and police on Monday visibly boosted their presence around the court and in central Skopje amid fears of another outbreak of inter-ethnic unrest after the passing of the verdict.

Judge Ivica Stefanovski called for the court's decision to be received peacefully.

“Despite the different ethnicity of the defendants and the victims, the verdict should not affect inter-human relations,” Stefanovski said.

Prosecutor Gordana Geskovska told the court at the beginning of this month that the murder was an act of terror carried out in order to provoke ethnic strife between the Macedonian majority and the country’s large Albanian minority.

The passing of the verdict | by: A1On

But defence lawyer Naser Raufi said in his closing arguments however that the seven accused had nothing to do with the murder, dismissing prosecution claims that the defendants were terrorists and raising doubts about the forensic material presented by the prosecution.

All the convicted men have the right to appeal against the verdict.

According to the charges, the two fugitives, Alil Demiri and Afrim Ismailovic, killed five Macedonians with automatic rifles near Skopje during Orthodox Easter in 2012, while the other five men provided logistical support.

The corpses of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12, 2012. Their 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 others.

News of the murder raised ethnic tensions, after groups of ethnic Macedonians staged protests, some of which turned violent, blaming the killings on members of the country’s large Albanian minority community.

Police on Monday visibly boosted their presence around the court and in central Skopje

During a recent visit to Macedonia, the OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities, Astrid Thors, said she was worried that the trial could spark further tension.

“We will recommend to political leaders to make a joint call for restraint and for calm in order to avoid any disturbances,” Thors said.

But in the days before the verdict, no senior political leader made any appeal for calm.

In 2001, Macedonia went through a brief armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces. The conflict ended the same year with the signing of a peace deal that increased Albanian rights.

Albanians make up a quarter of the country’s 2.1 million population.

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