Six ethnic Albanians jailed for 'vicious' Macedonia murders

A group of ethnic Albanians was sentenced to life in prison Monday after being found guilty of the murder of five Macedonian fishermen in a crime the authorities called a "terrorist attack".

Judge Ivica Stefanovski said the six accused had killed the men in April 2012 in a "vicious manner" with the aim of "inciting fear" and "endangering security" in the Balkan country.

The victims -- all ethnic Macedonians -- were found dead at a popular fishing spot near the capital Skopje, their bodies covered in gunshot wounds.

Prosecutors had called the murders a "terrorist attack" which they said were aimed at destabilising a country with a history of inter-ethnic violence.

The killings sparked fears that tensions between Macedonians and minority ethnic Albanians could flare up again, with relations between the two communities still scarred from a 2001 conflict.

With tensions high surrounding the case, anti-riot police secured the Skopje court building for the verdict.

Two of the defendants were tried in absentia as they have been serving jail sentences in neighbouring Kosovo for the illegal possession of weapons.

Although Macedonia has asked for their extradition, a decision on the case has yet to be made.

Defence lawyer Mitko Solakov said "no concrete evidence" had been produced during the trial and that the defendants would appeal.

The judge insisted that "despite the different ethnicity of the defendants and the victims," the verdict should not affect relations between the two groups.

The relationship between the two communities has been marred by occasional tensions since the seven-month conflict in 2001 between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

A peace deal signed in August 2001 gave greater rights to ethnic Albanians, who make up some 25 percent of Macedonia's population of two million.