Repeated bomb threats cause disruption in North Macedonia

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Authorities in North Macedonia evacuated 23 locations, including the country’s main airport, schools, hotels, a shopping mall and sports venues, for hours Friday after receiving what ultimately turned out to be fake bomb threats, the latest in a series of such incidents.

For more than two months, emailed bomb threats have sent anti-terrorism police squads to empty schools, public institutions and shopping malls almost daily.

Police spokesperson Suzana Pranik told The Associated Press that anti-terrorism teams have searched a total of 193 locations that received threats since late October. No explosives were found at any of them.

On Friday, emailed bomb threats were sent to Skopje International Airport, 15 schools in the capital and the southwestern town of Bitola, as well as two prominent hotels, the country’s soccer federation, a shopping center, a sports hall and the main stadium in Skopje, police said.

Flights were delayed for hours while passengers and employees were evacuated from the airport and anti-terror squads scoured the facility. One of the hotels was hosting an economic event where Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and two ministers were scheduled to give speeches.

A copy of the airport threat that was shared on social media spoke of eight bombs planted, though police did not find any. The threat accused Macedonians of being “complicit in the destruction of my country,” but did not name which country that was, and included a demand to lift unspecified sanctions.

Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski described the threats as “hybrid terrorist attacks” originating from abroad, and said they aimed to cause fear and paralyze the system.

“This is an act of terrorism. Whatever the reason that brings such discord and insecurity among the people, it should be severely punished,” Spasovski said.

The minister said police had strong indications as to who was sending the bomb threats and that his ministry was “working with maximum dedication, with the help of our partners (in NATO).”

In a statement, the prime minister suggested the threats were tied to North Macedonia’s stance on the war in Ukraine, where it has sided clearly with NATO and participated in sanctions against Russia.

“If you look at the content of the bomb threat, it is very clear that there are two sides in Europe. The one side that says states should not determine their own democratic path, as Ukraine’s (path) has been denied, that smaller states cannot decide their own future, that anyone can attack them and demand changes of government,” he said.

“And the other side, where we belong, (is) a side of the democratic world, a member of NATO, a side that is made up of EU member states or states that will become EU members,” Kovachevski added.

On Thursday, 49 schools in Skopje and the city of Kumanovo received bomb threats which also turned out to be false.

The main center-right opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, accused authorities of “incompetence” in dealing with the bomb threats and has demanded the interior minister resign.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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