Police in North Macedonia have arrested three men on suspicion of planning attacks in the country and have seized a large number 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 ISIL (ISIS) armed group and had served prison terms 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 organisation, 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 number of weapons, ammunition and military equipment, which they hid near a road in the northern village of Biljanovce, authorities said.
The arms cache
Police said they seized five automatic rifles, a machinegun, 18 ammunition belts for automatic rifles, eight grenade launchers with fuses, camouflage vests and an ISIL 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 organisation. If tried and convicted of both charges, they face a total of up to 15 years in jail.
In 2016, authorities estimated that about 150 Macedonian nationals had travelled to fight in Iraq and Syria.
Most were from the country’s Muslim majority ethnic Albanian minority, which represents about one-fourth of North Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million people.