North Macedonia: Police arrest 3 on suspicion of terrorism

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Police in North Macedonia say they have arrested three men on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in the country and have seized a large quantity of weapons in raids in five locations in the country’s north.

Police said on Tuesday the three men, one aged 22 and the others aged 25, had previously been convicted of participation in the Islamic State militant group and had served jail sentences on their return from the Middle East.

They were arrested on suspicion of creating and participating in a “criminal cell, based on the ideological matrix of the ISIS terrorist organization, with the intention of carrying out a terrorist act on targets in the territory of the Republic of Northern Macedonia,” police said. No specific targets were mentioned.

The group members allegedly provided financial means and procured a large quantity of weapons, ammunition and military equipment, which they hid near a road in the northern village of Biljanovce, authorities said.

Police said they seized five automatic rifles, a machine gun, 18 ammunition belts for automatic rifles, eight grenade launchers with fuses, camouflage vests and an ISIS flag with an Arabic inscription from the location.

Another three raids in the northern town of Kumanovo and one in the capital Skopje led to the seizure of two handmade belts filled with explosives, metal ball bearings, two hand grenade launchers and other items.

The three have been charged with terrorism and creating a terrorist organization. If tried and convicted of both charges, they face a total of up to 15 years in jail.

In 2016, authorities estimated that some 150 Macedonian nationals had traveled to fight alongside Islamic insurgents in Iraq and Syria. Most were from the country’s mainly Muslim ethnic Albanian minority, which represents about one-fourth of North Macedonia's population of 2.1 million people.