Macedonian police announced Tuesday that they arrested 20 radical Muslims, suspected to be members of a terrorist group which has been linked to the murder of five Macedonians in early April.
“The ministry of the interior found the perpetrators of the horrific killings at Smilkovsko lake” near Skopje, Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska told a press conference.
Twenty radical Muslims, mostly Macedonian citizens, some of whom had been “fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan against NATO soldiers”, were arrested. They were nabbed on Monday after a massive security operation involving some 800 police officers and other interior ministry officials.
The minister described the suspects as “Skopje followers of radical Islam” but did not reveal their names or ethnicity.
“Among those 20 people a few are directly involved in the horrific killings and for some we do not have details,” Jankulovska said.
On April 12 five men, one 45 years old and the others aged between 18 and 22, were found dead from gunshot wounds at a popular fishing pond near Skopje.
“The interior ministry will file terrorism charges against them,” she added, explaining that their motive was “to incite fear and insecurity”.
The authorities said they seized weapons and radical Islamic literature.
The murders sparked fears that tensions between Macedonians and minority ethnic Albanians could flare up again.
The atmosphere has for some time been tense in the former Yugoslav republic, where relations between the two main communities remain scarred from a 2001 armed conflict between government security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.
A peace deal was signed in August 2001, when Albanians, who make up some 25 percent of Macedonia’s population of two million, were given improved rights.
In March, more than a dozen people were injured in inter-ethnic clashes in Skopje and the Albanian-dominated northwestern town of Tetovo, highlighting the worsening of relations between the communities.