The Telegraph (UK), May 22, 2004
Macedonia 'staged fake terror plot to woo US'
By Harry de Quetteville in Rastanski Lozja
Macedonia has apologised for the murder of six Pakistanis by its security forces two years ago in a conspiracy supposedly intended to curry favour from America in the war on terrorism.
Macedonia's deputy interior minister met Pakistan's ambassador to Turkey in the capital, Skopje, this week and gave assurances that his government was committed to punishing the guilty.
Six Pakistanis and one Indian were killed. They were described at the time as mujahideen but in reality were migrant workers passing through the country and looking for work in Western Europe, according to government investigators.
In what has been described as the worst scandal to hit the Balkan nation, the government last month charged the former interior minister Ljube Boskovski and six security force officers with murder, alleging that they staged the ambush to win international attention for their efforts to fight terrorism.
The ambush happened six months after September 11 when Washington was seeking partners for its new anti-terrorism campaign.
The macabre plot was played out in the shadow of an electricity sub-station just east of Skopje.
Boskovski claimed that the seven were a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist cell using the area to plot attacks that would reduce the US and British embassies in Skopje to rubble.
He said the cell was neutralised in a fierce gun battle during a daring security operation by elite police units.
According to the government investigation, which was recently made public, the seven - who were as young as 22 - were in fact brought to Macedonia with promises of passage to Western Europe and prosperity.
They were instead kept prisoner in a flat in Skopje. They were then driven out to the scrublands of Rastanski Lozja, shot dead, and the scene staged to make the men appear terrorists.
Next to their bullet-riddled bodies were placed camouflaged uniforms, guns and explosives.
But when western diplomats were shown photographs, their reaction was one of suspicion.
America had no intelligence of a threat to its embassy and in the two years since then suspicion hardened into outright accusation.
According to the interior ministry spokesman for the Social Democrat government, whose election victory in September 2002 ousted the nationalists and marked the beginning of an open investigation of the killings, the operation was led by a paramilitary unit formed by Boskovski.
"It was a special unit called 'The Lions' formed on Boskovski's signature," said the spokesman, Mirjana Konteska. It was an illegal unit that was operating outside the law.
Commanders of the unit have now told an investigating judge that Boskovski and senior officials from the interior ministry dreamed up the scheme to uncover a fake terrorist plot.
Four members of "The Lions" and two interior ministry officials have been charged with murder.
But just as police prepared to arrest Boskovski this month, he fled to Croatia, where he also has citizenship. From his exile, he has protested his innocence. Macedonian prosecutors have called for his extradition.
The motives for the murders remain unclear. Interior ministry sources deny that America was offering financial incentives in the form of aid to Macedonia if it proved its anti-terrorism credentials.
But they said Boskovski had fallen out with "western representatives" before the plot and may have been trying to regain their trust.