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Analysis of Attack and Weapons Captured from Gun Battles in Banjska, Northern Kosovo
Early on the morning of September 24, for the second time this year Kosovo witnessed some of the worst violence it has seen since the end of the war in 1999, a conflict fought between mostly Serb Yugoslav forces and Kosovar (ethnic-Albanian) guerrillas that killed tens of thousands and displaced over a million people.
Around 3:00 AM, several masked gunmen in armored vehicles, dawning military gear and carrying small arms, rocket launchers, and various explosives began blocking roads in the northern Kosovo municipal area of Zvečan around the village and associated Serb Orthodox monastery of Banjska. The information surrounding subsequent events, as it has been provided by both the governments in Pristina and Belgrade, remains dubious. However, reports suggest that multiple gun battles took place between these gunmen and Kosovo police and that explosives were detonated across the area as skirmishes ensued during the resulting police siege of the monastery after gunmen took up positions in and around the area.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, held an urgent press conference in which he displayed photographs of men armed with assault rifles and, in at least one case, an anti-tank rocket launcher, masked up and surrounding the Orthodox monastery. He described the incident as an assault by Belgrade-backed terrorists, whom he claims were not Kosovo nationals, rather, he says they crossed the border with the help of authorities in Serbia. The monks and clergy at the monastery apparently had to take refuge during the subsequent police siege, and the attack was condemned by the Church. It remains unclear what these men’s objective was, or why and how they ended up at the monastery, but given present information, it appears that the gunmen sought refuge in the monastery after Kosovo police returned fire on them following initial gunfire from the mysterious masked unit.
During the shootouts, one Kosovo police officer was killed—dying at the hospital after being extracted by fellow officers—and another was wounded. Kosovo authorities say that they killed three assailants, captured six, and that over a dozen others managed to escape. However, the original number of 30 attackers provided by Pristina has been called into question by both the Serbian government and various outside news outlets.
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Following the incident, Kosovo police closed border crossings with Serbia at Jarinje and Brnjak, and blocked all access in and out of Banjska village, while the European Union’s special representative for dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, Miroslav Lajčak, made an emergency visit to Kosovo.
Tensions flared in northern Kosovo earlier in June of this year, when ethnic Serbs who had boycotted spring elections violently demonstrated against ethnic-Albanian mayors that had been elected to govern four predominantly Serb towns in the north of the country near the border with Serbia. During that incident, roads were again blocked, and a police cruiser was set ablaze. Kosovo police and troops serving in NATO’s peacekeeping mission to Kosovo (KFOR) were pelted with rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails, and multiple members of the security services were injured along with Serb demonstrators, while several arrests were also made.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić responded to the 24th’s incident in a press conference and acknowledged that the assailants were ethnic-Serbs while denying responsibility for the attack, and ultimately blamed Prime Minister Kurti for the events while reiterating warnings he had previously made to Brussels about impending violence in northern Kosovo.
The government in Pristina has since called on Belgrade to hand over six additional assailants, claiming that they escaped, and that some of them are currently receiving treatment at a hospital in Novi Pazar, just across the northern Kosovo border in Serbia.
While the intentions of the armed group remain unclear, there are certainly some notable details worth mentioning. Among the items captured were anti-tank weapons, a tripod-mounted automatic grenade launcher, radio communication equipment, and an enormous amount of ammunition in various calibers including rocket ammo. Kosovo police also seized KFOR decals, which look like they were intended to be placed on vehicles.
Drone footage has emerged of the daylight events following the initial contact between gunmen and police, but it remains difficult to determine exactly what transpired around the Banjska Monastery:
Weapons and Vehicles Used by the Attackers
The attackers appear to have used multiple Yugoslavian Kalashnikov variant Zastava M70 (with milled receiver), M70AB2, and Zastava M70B1 assault rifles along with Zastava M92 carbines. In addition to the Yugoslav M70 variants, at least one Albanian ASh-78 Type-1 assault rifle is also seen. Like many standard Kalashnikov variants, these weapons are chambered in 7.62x39mm.
The Zastava M70-series rifles are one of the most common AK variants in the region (and even in Europe in general).
Zastava M85 carbines, a carbine like the Zastava M92 but chambered in 5.56x45mm, were found during searches by the Kosovo Police. The attackers appear to have at least two M85 carbines. These carbines have also been customized with various furnitures.
At least two Yugoslav/Serbian Zastava M84 machine guns and one Zastava M72 Light machine gun were also seized.
The Zastava M72 is a copy of the RPK and chambered in 7.62x39mm like its original.
The Zastava M84 machine gun is a Yugoslavia/Serbia-produced copy of the Soviet-made PK general-purpose machine gun and is chambered in 7.62x54mmR.
Additionally, a Zastava M76 designated marksman rifle chambered in 7.62x54mmR like the M84 machine gun, was also among the weapons seized by Kosovo police.
An interesting captured weapon is the M2-pattern heavy machine gun which is chambered in .50 BMG (12.7x99mm).
M2 machine guns are in the military inventories of many countries in the region, including Serbia. Those who carried out the attack managed to obtain M2 HMGs leaked from one of these inventories.
Another 12.7mm weapon is the Zastava M12 "Black Spear" long-range sniper rifle (or anti-materiel rifle).
The M12 "Black Spear" rifle is also a weapon produced by Serbia. However, it is not seen very often in the hands of non-state armed groups in the region.
The attackers also used 5.56x45mm AR-15 platform rifles. In general, these AR-15 rifles appear to be civilian (semi-auto) variants.
In addition to the AR-15s, two MP5K & MP5SD3 submachine guns and a customized Zastava M92 carbine, which is also a Serbian/Yugoslavian weapon, are also seen in the published photo.
Security forces further seized a rare South African Vektor R4 assault rifle, which is rare in the region.
Serbia is one of the leading countries using Vector R4 in the Balkans, and in Europe generally. Vektor R4 rifles are used by various Serbian Army units, including Serbian Special Brigades. This rifle is chambered in 5.56x45mm.
In addition to the rifles and machine guns, the attackers had multiple 64mm single-use M80 'Zolja' anti-tank weapons. A captured M80 appears to have not been fired. The attackers probably lost this weapon before they had a chance to fire it.
In subsequent operations, a large number of M80 'Zolja' anti-tank weapons were seized from the attackers. Many of these appear to have been armed and unused as well.
M80 weapons first began to be produced in Yugoslavia in the 1980s. They are still used by more than one country, including Serbia, and the production of this weapon continues in Serbia and North Macedonia.
It can also be noted that below the seized M80 weapons, a 82-BM-36 pattern mortar and M74 mortar rounds are present.
Another notable weapon used by the attackers is the 30mm Zastava M93 automatic grenade launcher.
This grenade launcher is a Yugoslavian/Serbian copy of the Soviet-made AGS-17 'Plamya'. In addition to the captured grenade launcher, a Serbian NSBG-1 aiming device and a spare magazine can also be identified.
Among the seized weapons and ammunition, there are also a large number of M93P1 High-Explosive Fragmentation (HE-Frag) grenades for the M93 grenade launcher.
Additionally, several Yugoslav/Serbian M60P1 AP rifle grenade were among the types of bombs seized.
To the right of the rifle grenades are Serbian/Yugoslavian produced M75 and M52P3 hand grenades.
The seized explosives included several anti-personnel land mine. These are Serbian/Yugoslavian production “MRUD” landmines; which are quite similar to M18A1 Claymores.
It is ale noteworthy that the attackers had a thermal rifle scope and a DJI brand COTS UAV drone.
The attackers were operating at least one up-armored TAM 110 T7 B/BV truck —which is quite similar to "Ris" upgrades operated by the Serbian Gendarmerie.
There are also multiple Stels Guepard ATVs among the seized vehicles.
As can be seen, the team that carried out the attack mostly used Serbian/Yugoslavian weapons - which are the most common weapons in the region. Additionally, vehicles with various usage areas were selected for the operation. It is fair to say that the group that carried out the attack was well-prepared, financed, and resourced, but their origins remain a mystery. This attack had probably been organized many months prior to its execution, and it remains to be seen who was behind it, what its aims were, and what its resulting consequences will be.