Macedonian police on Tuesday arrested 20, allegedly radicalised, Muslims in an operation in several villages around the capital. The police believe that the murderers are among those arrested.
After spending the night in a police station in Skopje, they were brought before court this morning.
Police said the motives of the men, some of whom were Macedonian nationals, was to spread fear in the country.
“The arrested men are radical Islamists who have been fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan against NATO and they will be charged with terrorism,” Police Minister, Gordana Jankulovska said.
The police say that as part of the operation named “Monster” it searched 26 sites in Aracinovo, Suto Orizari, Cair and Cento, all areas in and around Skopje. Over 800 police officers participated in the arrests.
The Interior Ministry said they found an automatic gun, four pistols, a bomb, bullets and ammunition for grenade launchers as well as camouflage uniforms and tactical vests. Literature associated with radical Islam was also found.
The bodies of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12 near Zelezarsko Ezero on the northern outskirts of the capital, a popular fishing destination. All had gunshot wounds.
The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was a short distance away from the rest.
Eyewitnesses said they were found by a local fisherman and the victims were believed to be fishermen too.
The bodies had been lined up and appeared to have been executed with firearms. Two cars were found in the vicinity with open doors.
The news of the killings raised tensions in the ethnically divided country between Macedonians and country’s largest Albanian minority.
Tensions peaked four days after the murder when the police prevented a mob of Macedonian youngsters from moving across the Vardar River towards an area of the capital mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.
Former police intelligence chief Kire Naumov said if the police claims about cells of Islamist terrorists proved true, the country faced a serious challenge.
“If all this prove true, then this looks like the organized terrorist cell of a radical Islamist organization… then Macedonia has a serious problem”, he told Deutsche Welle.
Meanwhile, Rade Slavkovski the father of one of the victims, 19-year-old Filip Slavkovski told media that he would feel satisfied if the police had indeed arrested his son’s killers.
“Nothing will return Filip but it is good if the justice is done” he said on Tuesday.
The first political party to react on Wednesday was the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.
“Albanians cannot accept collective responsibility for the killing of children, a crime that has never happened in their history, not even during times of war,” said Bujar Osmani, the DUI spokesperson.
He said that no matter the nationality of the perpetrators, “They remain murderers and nothing else”.