[Opinion] : A failed terrorist provocation

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer , 

Washington, 24 October 2023, / –  A month ago, the Kosovo police foiled an attempted insurrection near a Serb Orthodox monastery Banjska, in the northern part of the country. A 51-page preliminary investigative report by the Republic of Kosovo is now circulating in the US government. Here is my plagiaristic summary. The original is better.

Conclusions first

A paramilitary group of about 80 cadres recruited, trained and specifically designated for the purpose carried out the attack, with heavy arms Serbia provided.

Belgrade’s goal was to instigate a Kosovo police response to firing from the Banjska monastery that could be used to justify a Serbian military intervention, allegedly to save endangered Serb citizens of Kosovo and pilgrims from Serbia.

The plan entailed challenging, threatening, and potentially killing members of KFOR as well as Kosovo police, who lost one officer to a land mine.

The chain of command included the Serbian state, whose President and security structures are culpable legally and morally.

Dozens of perpetrators who escaped to Serbia are now protected from justice by Belgrade.

There is a risk of repetition , as evidenced by the continued offensive posture of Serbian security forces surrounding Kosovo as well as the intense pro-invasion propaganda campaign still ongoing inside Serbia.

A few details of the investigation

The Serbian Armed Forces trained the paramilitary perpetrators over a period of two years at army and Interior Ministry bases. US-donated Humvees were used in the training.

The Kosovo authorities have captured detailed plans based on military-supplied maps for the paramilitaries to open routes into Kosovo for weapons and supplies from Serbia.

Serbian special forces and drones entered into Kosovo in the leadup to the insurrection, and medical ambulances transported weapons into the country.

The operation was led by Milan Radoicic, then deputy leader of the Belgrade-sponsored political party in Kosovo, a close associate of Serbian security officials, and a political ally of President Vucic.

The paramilitaries used vehicles disguised with KFOR labels and false license plates. The plan included attracting the Kosovo Police by blocking roads, firing on them from the Banjska monastery, and provoking an attack that would serve as a pretext for Serbian military intervention.

The paramilitaries were well-equipped with military-grade weapons almost entirely made in Serbia. This included 66 AK-47s, 9 machine guns, 6 sniper rifles, 41 anti-tank rocket launchers, 2 automatic grenade launchers, 8 anti-tank mines, and 122 hand grenades, along with the appropriate ammunition and over 350 units of explosives. Documentation that some of these weapons were definitely supplied by Serbia is available.

Serbia continues to promote violence against Kosovo

Since September 24, Serbia has continued to threaten violence against Kosovo. It has celebrated the paramilitaries involved in the foiled plot and declared a day of mourning for the three terrorists who were killed. High production value graffiti in Serbia, including in soccer stadiums, and in the four northern municipalities in Kosovo with Serb majorities, has promoted the idea that Serbian forces will soon return to Kosovo. Serbian armed forces are still on high alert.

President Vucic and media he controls uses hate speech in referring to Kosovo, its political leaders, and Albanians in general.

Ambitions to create the “Serbian world,” a pale copy of Putin’s “Russian world” that includes Ukraine, are rife. Serbia has dramatically increased its military exercises with Russia. Belgrade intimidation of Serbs in northern Kosovo to prevent cooperation with Pristina continues, as do covert operations against Kosovo institutions.

It didn’t start on September 24 and it didn’t end then

There were four prior attacks in northern Kosovo since December 2022. The same units and some of the same personnel were involved, including in the attack on KFOR troops in May. None of the perpetrators have been returned to Kosovo to face charges. They are sheltered by the Serbian state and remain available to conduct future violent operations. So far, there has been no diplomatic action taken against Belgrade by either the US or EU, which will encourage Vucic to pursue future destabilization efforts in order to justify Serbian military intervention in Kosovo.

The precise Russian role in the September 24 plot is still unclear, but Russian backing for escalating Serbian efforts to challenge Western resolve in the Balkans is apparent. The Russians will not have failed to notice the lack of Western response. Moscow and Belgrade will amplify their efforts.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.    

This opinion was first published at website.                  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of  .

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