N Macedonia: 8 charged with creating terrorist organization

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Police in North Macedonia said Monday that eight men have been arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in the country and officers have seized a large quantity of weapons.

Police said the men were arrested late Sunday and are between 21- and 31-years-old. One of the suspects had a previous conviction of participation in the Islamic State group.

The eight have been charged with creating a terrorist organization. If convicted of that charge, they face prison sentences of up to 10 years.

The eight were arrested on suspicion of “creating a terrorist organization, based on the ideological matrix of the terrorist organization ISIS, for committing murders and destroying public buildings” and with the aim of creating fear or insecurity among the public, police said. No specific targets in North Macedonia were mentioned.

Police said the weapons were seized during raids at eight locations in the country’s north.

The arrested men are accused of procuring weapons, ammunition and military equipment that they hid near a road in a village near the northern town of Kumanovo, making improvised explosive devices and carrying out test firings.

They allegedly communicated through an internet platform about plans for transporting weapons and the making of suicide vests, authorities said.

Police said the men belong to the same group as three others who were arrested in September on suspicion of storing a large quantity of ammunition, mines and explosives near Kumanovo.

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.

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