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Kosovo's Mafia: Assassinations and intimidation

Part II: Investigating an intelligence service in the shadows.

The victims

Another person who believes Bllaca’s claims is Buki Kllokoqi, the son of the man Bllaca says he killed.

For years the Kllokoqi family have remained silent on the topic but Buki and his mother, Drita, agreed to be interviewed in the home where Ibush Kllokoqi was shot dead on Aug. 6, 1999.

“[Bllaca] was ordered to do that,” said Buki Kllokoqi, 30, an IT specialist with an international company that has an office in Pristina. “The guys who ordered it are the real criminals in this case. He is just a puppet.”

Kllokoqi, in perfect American-accented English, spoke with controlled anger about his father’s murder. There is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Kosovo that has historically prevented witnesses from speaking publicly, or in court, against senior former KLA officials. Kllokoqi is different. “I really don’t give a ---- about what they may say or do,” he said, when asked whether he was worried about the consequences of discussing his father’s death.

Kllokoqi refused to answer questions about which individuals he holds responsible for his father’s murder but he was unusually frank in saying that Bllaca’s accusations about who his bosses were ring true to him.

“It makes sense to me,” he said. “Who else would want my father dead?”

Kllokoqi makes a point of saying that he and his father, and all the family, were and remain strong supporters of the KLA and Kosovo. “Certain individuals, in the name of the KLA, did atrocities but that does not mean the KLA is bad,” he said. “They used the KLA banner to do whatever they did.”

What brought assassins to Kllokoqi’s front gate on that night in August, 1999, was a misapprehension about Ibush Kllokoqi, the dead man’s son and wife said. Ibush Kllokoqi was a senior officer in the old Yugoslav intelligence service, his son said. “He left his job in 1991,” he said. “His job was occupied by Serbs. He was not a collaborator … . He got his pension and left. Because he did not want to be part of the Serbian terror machine.”

Unfortunately for Ibush Kllokoqi, he had learned “too much about all of those guys,” Buki Kllokoqi said, referring to Albanian and Kosovo Albanian criminals who later became powerful in the KLA.

After he retired, Ibush Kllokoqi bought two buses to rent out, his son said, but the business was not successful. During the war of 1999 the family fled to Montenegro. Along the way, said Drita Kllokoqi, some Serbian men “beat up my husband so badly.”

Once home in Pristina, after the Serbs had retreated from Kosovo, the family put word out that they were selling their buses. So it was hardly a surprise when three men came to the front gate of the wall that surrounds the family’s house on a sloping street in central Pristina. The men asked about the buses that were for sale.

“I went out,” said Drita Kllokoqi, 59. “There were three but just one came near the gate. The others were standing behind him. I asked my husband to go outside.”

It was about 9 p.m. and Ibush Kllokoqi was eating his dinner. He was carrying a piece of pie in his hands when he came through the front yard to the gate. “I turned my back and heard shots,” Drita said. “At least three, maybe four. I turned around and saw him lying down. He was still alive.”

He died soon after.

Drita remembers little else about the murder. “I can’t even remember the face of the guy I talked to,” she said.

Bllaca says his is one of the faces she can’t remember.

“Ibush Kllokoqi was part of the Yugoslav secret service,” he said, explaining why Kllokoqi was a target for him and his two accomplices.

When talking of the murder Bllaca tended to talk in the passive. “He was killed in Pristina at the footsteps of his home. With a gun. A Scorpion [machine pistol] with a silencer. It was the evening, in the dark. Six to 11 bullets. They hit him in the left of the body. He was killed in front of his wife. There were three of us. Our first job was to get him out of his home. The person on the right had the job of talking to him.”

When asked which of the three had actually shot Kllokoqi, Bllaca said: “It was me.”

Bllaca has told EULEX prosecutors, as he has stated publicly and to GlobalPost, that his hit squad also tried to kill two prominent members of the Kosovo Albanian party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which was the KLA’s major rival.

Adem Salihaj
Adem Salihaj
(Matt McAllester/GlobalPost)

In an interview, one of the men, Adem Salihaj, a former deputy prime minister of Kosovo, said that he had been given information by a friendly source in SHIK that other men from SHIK would try to kill him. So as he drove home on June 12, 2000, to his house in the town of Ferizaj, about 40 minutes outside Pristina, he was armed.

“I had a handgun with me,” he said, “which I held in my hand.”

As he drove toward his house, a car pulled up alongside him. One of the men in the car was pointing a machine pistol with a silencer at him. “I stopped,” he said. “They stopped.”

Salihaj and the gunman got out of their respective cars and aimed at each other. “He couldn’t shoot,” Salihaj said. “I think my gun was not cocked to shoot either. We were just two guys pointing guns at each other.”

The would-be assassin got back into his car and the men rapidly reversed away from Salihaj. Salihaj cocked his gun and fired at the car. He shot twice more.

A second car was awaiting him close to his house ― but it drove away. “Nazim Bllaca says he was in that car,” Salihaj said.

Salihaj is convinced he knows who tried to kill him.

“It was SHIK,” he said. “No one did political killings other than SHIK. At that time I was threatened by the PDK all the time.”

He added: “I think, ultimately, it was SHIK’s chief who did this,” he said. “Kadri Veseli. But the killings wouldn’t have happened without the order of the political leader.”

Asked if he meant Thaci, Salihaj said: “They couldn’t be done without the political approval of Hashim Thaci … . The only mechanism SHIK responded to was the PDK so there is direct responsibility of HashimThaci.”

“SHIK,” Salihaj said, echoing many well-informed people in Kosovo, “still exists.”

Agim Veliu
(Jetmir Izidri/GlobalPost)

About three weeks after Bllaca says he and his fellow assassins tried to kill Salihaj, they moved on to a new target, another LDK party official named Agim Veliu, who is now the mayor of Podujevo, a town half an hour outside Pristina.

This time, the assassins did a better job, peppering Veliu’s car with bullets as he drove home at about 7 p.m. on the evening of July 1, 2000.

Sitting in his office, Veliu, 50, produced a photograph of the side of his car, which was pierced with several bullet holes. “I was injured with three bullets,” he said.

“SHIK, of course,” he said, when asked if he had any suspicions about who had tried to kill him. “Of course it was SHIK. That was their way ― to eliminate people in their way of power.”

He named Veseli and Thaci as being in charge of SHIK.

“I think that no one related to SHIK deserves to be the head of government, leading the people,” Veliu said, “and no one involved with SHIK deserves American support.”

Veliu said that the love that most Kosovars have for the United States is beginning to fade. “I’ve been in so many villages and all appreciate the USA so much but now I’m seeing trust lost because the USA supports these kind of people who are involved in organized crime.”

Jovo Martinovic contributed to this story.

(GlobalPost funding for human rights reporting on stories like these is provided in part by a grant from the Galloway Family Foundation.)
 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/110321/kosovo-intelligence-services