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7 Foreign Militants Shot Dead in Macedonia - 2002-03-03

Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski says his police forces have shot dead seven foreign militants who allegedly planned to attack several key buildings including the American and other foreign embassies in the Capital Skopje. The incident has underscored concern in Eastern Europe and the Balkans about the threat of terrorism, following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Macedonian police officials confirmed the shoot out began early Saturday when the seven men attempted to ambush a police patrol just outside the capital Skopje. All seven suspected terrorists were killed while the Macedonian forces suffered no losses in the attack.

Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski told reporters that the men were "probably Pakistanis." Mr. Boskovski suggested that the men were terrorists who he said had been planning attacks against Macedonian officials as well as vital installations in Skopje, including the embassies of Germany, Great Britain and the United States.

Forensic experts described the dead as "dark-skinned" and police video footage showed what appeared to be identity cards with the names Omer Farooq and Bilal Hussain. Police officials said they had found AK-47 rifles, grenade launchers and grenades in or near the van used by the gunmen.

Investigators reported that the attackers appear to be linked to another group, two Jordanians and two Bosnians, who were detained in late February. They said computer diskettes seized from that group show detailed evidence of plans to strike at the U.S., British and German embassies in the Macedonian capital.

Western officials say heightened security measures are in effect at several embassies in the Macedonian capital. More than a dozen heavily armed police officers were seen posted outside the U.S. embassy compound in Skopje.

Analysts say the clash Saturday was the most serious incident in Macedonia since the signing in August of a peace accord that ended a conflict between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian fighters.

It has also underlined growing concern about possible terrorism in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where peacekeepers have been on higher allert since the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

U.S. and other security forces in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina have been involved in arresting alleged terrorists with links to to the al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, who were apparently planning attacks against Western Embassies and other facilities.

Following Saturday's incident in Macedonia,anti terrorist efforts are likely to be stepped up across Eastern Europe and the volatile Balkans.