Belgrade, Sep 24 (EFE).- A group of heavily armed men stormed a northern Kosovo monastery after killing a police officer on Sunday morning, setting off a deadly gun battle with security forces in a village near the Serbian border.
Kosovo attributed the attack in the northern village of Banjska in Leposavic province to the militants allegedly supported by neighboring Serbia.
The shootout left three of the 30 attackers and a cop dead by Sunday evening, police said, claiming they arrested four suspects found in possession of radio devices, weapons, and ammunition.
A police officer died and three cops sustained injuries in the exchange of fire that continued until the reports last came in.
According to Kosovo authorities, the heavily armed men, traveling in several vehicles, sought refuge inside a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Banjska after killing a police officer in a pre-dawn attack.
Minister of Communities Nenad Rašic, described the situation as dramatic, with no immediate resolution in sight. “The police are urging the attackers to surrender, but there is no response.”
The Serbian-Kosovar politician said “a certain number of attackers are inside the monastery, while others are in the surrounding area.”
“No one knows for sure who these attackers are, except that it is a well-armed and organized group.”
Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the attackers had “political, financial, and logistical support from” neighboring Serbia.
He said the assailants were “masked professionals armed with heavy weapons” who opened fire on a police patrol in the morning, killing one officer and injuring another.
He said security forces had since surrounded a Serbian armed group involved in the attack and demanded that they surrender.
“There are at least 30 heavily armed people. They have military and police backgrounds. They are under siege,” the prime minister told reporters.
He posted pictures on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), showing heavily armed people wearing masks around the monastery in Banjska.
He said the armed men came in jeeps and drove an armored vehicle they parked outside the monastery.
The Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Raska-Prizren said the armed men stormed into the monastery in an armored vehicle.
“The diocese is very concerned. Priests and pilgrims locked themselves inside the monastery’s temple for safety,” a diocese press statement said.
The statement did not specify the group’s identity but condemned “the violence against a religious institution” and urged “all parties to end the conflict.”
President Vjosa Osmani suspended her visit to New York after the attack.
Osmani said the incident was “orchestrated by Serbian criminal gangs,” describing it as an attack on “the sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is expected to address the nation to “unmask all of Kurti’s lies”, according to the Belgrade media.
Tensions between the two have surged since minority ethnic Serbs began protesting earlier this year to call for newly-elected ethnic Albanian mayors to be removed from their positions.
Kosovo Serbs, who are a majority in the municipalities where the protests took place but are a minority overall in the rest of Kosovo, do not recognize the authority of the mayors elected in the April elections.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a majority ethnic Albanian population, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008.
Ethnic Albanians constitute over 90 percent of Kosovo’s population.
More than 100 members of the United Nations consider Kosovo an independent nation. Serbia does not recognize it as a sovereign state. EFE