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Macedonia says arrests Islamists for lake murders

MYT 10:15:00 PM

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Police in Macedonia said they had arrested 20 people on Tuesday, including radical Islamists who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, for the murder of five men at a lake near the capital Skopje in mid-April.

The killing of the Macedonian men, shot at close range by more than one gunman, followed a bout of intercommunal violence in the Balkan country and raised concerns of wider unrest as speculation focused on the ethnic Albanian minority.

Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said 20 people had been arrested in raids involving 800 police officers at more than 20 locations around the capital.

"Some of them are followers of radical Islam ... and some are members of a group that fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan on the side of the Taliban against NATO troops," Jankulovska told a news conference.

She said most of those arrested were Macedonian citizens but declined to specify their ethnicity or name them.

Jankulovska said some would be charged with terrorism, and that the motive behind the attack had been "to spread fear."

There was no claim of responsibility for the April killings.

The former Yugoslav republic has around 175 soldiers operating alongside NATO in Afghanistan, but its bid to join the alliance is blocked by a dispute with neighbouring Greece over its use of the name 'Macedonia'.

Macedonia avoided civil war in 2001 when Western diplomacy halted fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

A peace deal offered Macedonia's Albanians, most of whom practice a moderate form of Islam, greater rights and representation, but the two communities still live largely separate lives.

In 2002, Macedonia's then government said police had killed seven "Mujahideen terrorists" plotting to attack Western embassies in Skopje.

Prosecutors later said the dead were Asian migrants, killed in an elaborate plot hatched by the Interior Ministry to win favour with the West months after the September 11 attacks.

(Writing by Matt Robinson)

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